Rocket launched from Wallops, Va.; aurora may be viewable tonight in northern states

An Antares rocket was launched from NASA’s Wallops Island at 1:07 p.m. today and was viewable for parts of the East Coast. Meanwhile, aurora may be visible in parts of the northern U.S. tonight in the wake of a major solar flare Tuesday.

Rocket launch

1:15 p.m. UPDATE: The launch went off successfully at 1:07 p.m.  Here are a few reports of sightings around the D.C. area:

 

 

 


Viewing map for today’s rocket launch (Orbital Sciences)

From 1:00 p.m.: The rocket launch, which was scrubbed Wednesday due to elevated radiation levels in space from the solar flare, is set to go today (barring any last minute issue) between 1:07 and 1:12 p.m. Orbital Sciences, which built the rocket, says skywatchers on the East Coast may be able to see view it, but that its appearance may be subtle since the launch isn’t happening at night.

Because the launch will occur during the daytime, it will not be as visible as some of our recent nighttime launches from Wallops Island. In addition, because Antares first stage engines are liquid fueled, it will not produce a column of smoke that solid fueled rockets typically produce. As a result, from a distance Antares will appear as a faint bright spot ascending in the sky if viewing conditions are optimal.

Look to the southeast and east about 10 degrees above the horizon to catch a glimpse in the D.C. area.


Where to look for the rocket from the Capitol East Front steps (Orbital Sciences)

The purpose of the mission is to carry cargo to the International Space Station. It is the first of eight commercial cargo resupply missions, says Orbital Sciences.

Follow @orbitalsciences, @twcspacewx, and @nasa for updates on the launch. You can also watch the launch on NASA TV online.

Aurora

The coronal mass ejection (CME) or wave of plasma associated with Tuesday’s solar flare is projected to impact the Earth’s atmosphere some time between today and early Friday.  Aurora are possible in the northern tier of U.S. states when this occurs, but there is some uncertainty on the timing and extent of viewing possibilities.

Writes NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center on Facebook:

Onset time of viewable Aurora activity will depend on the arrival time of the CME to Earth’s magnetic field, as well as the strength of the magnetic interaction.

If the CME arrives later than forecast (during daylight or at sunrise), if it is cloudy, if the moon is bright, or if the magnetic interaction is less than expected (low K index observed), it will likely not be viewable.

If there are dark skies, there are little or no clouds, and the K index is high enough – you may have a chance to see the Aurora – if your location is at a latitude high enough.


Aurora visibility according to the different K-levels. Tonight’s K-levels are projected to be around 7. (NOAA)

Based on the forecast strength of the CME’s geomagnetic activity, it’s highly unlikely aurora will be viewable in the Mid-Atlantic. NOAA is estimating the K-index (referenced above) will be around 7, meaning places south of Washington state, the Dakotas, Chicago, and New York state probably won’t see much. If you’re north of those locations, keep your fingers crossed and eyes on the sky.

Jason is currently the Washington Post’s weather editor. A native Washingtonian, Jason has been a weather enthusiast since age 10.
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