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Posted at 02:45 PM ET, 02/22/2012

What the Northern Lights look like when a rocket hits (photo)

NASA shot a sounding rocket into the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, in Alaska last week. A fish-eye view:


(Donald Hampton - NASA)

NASA scientists say they shot the Terrier-Black Brant rocket at the lights to collect data on “space weather” that may be affecting GPS satellites. Steven Powell, who is leading the research team, explains space weather this way:

“[It] is caused by the charged particles that come from the sun and interact with the Earth's magnetic field. We don't directly feel those effects as humans, but our electronic systems do.”

The rocket reached a height of 186 miles, and came down more than 200 miles away. During its time in the air, it sent back real-time data on the space weather, which scientists hope can help them better protect satellites and understand what makes auroras tick.

A week earlier, NASA released footage of the Northern Lights above North America, as seen from space:

By  |  02:45 PM ET, 02/22/2012

Tags:  National, NASA, Northern Lights, Aurora Borealis

 
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