After multiple scrubbed launch attempts over the last 30 days, a Terrier-Improved Malemute sounding rocket finally blasted off from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia at 4:25 a.m. on June 29th. The resulting display of "space clouds" was worth the wait:
Christopher Becke captured this star-trailed image from Williamsburg, Virginia. "I was 82 miles from the launch site but had no trouble seeing the rocket or the clouds," he says.
During the 8-minute flight, the rocket deployed 10 canisters about the size of soft drink cans more than 100 miles above Earth's surface. The canisters dispensed barium, strontium and cupric-oxide, which interacted to form blue-green and red vapors visible from New York to North Carolina. According to the space agency, the chemicals "pose[d] no hazard to residents along the mid-Atlantic coast."
"As the canisters fired, the erupting colors were vivid and brilliantly apparent," reports onlooker Susan Milligan of Williamsburg VA. "The photos hardly do them justice."
Such clouds allow scientists on the ground to visually track particle motions at the edge of space, giving them new insights into the dynamics of Earth's ionosphere.