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NASA rocket may conjure blue and red cloud over D.C., Mid-Atlantic tonight

Map showing when a sounding rocket may be visible across the Mid-Atlantic after launch, expected Wednesday night in 7 to 9 p.m. window (NASA)

Between 7 and 9 p.m. tonight, look-up and you may see “a cloud that is blue-green and red in color” as NASA launches a sounding rocket from its Wallops Flight Facility in southeast, Va.

The glowing cloud of colored vapor will form about 130 miles above Earth in the southeast sky about six minutes after launch as the rocket deploys four sub-payloads containing a mix of barium and strontium.

“Residents from Long Island, New York, 235 miles north of the launch site, to Morehead City, North Carolina, 232 miles south, 165 miles west in Charlottesville, Virginia — and everyone in between — could get a glimpse of the colorful evening launch,” NASA says.

The amount of chemicals being released “poses no hazard”, NASA says, and is much smaller than used in a typical July 4 fireworks display.

NASA is intentionally creating this cloud to test new spacecraft technologies. Specifically, the vapor cloud is a means to test its sub-payload ejection system.

A rocket carrying small satellites, which scientists hope can cheaply transmit larger amounts of data, launched from California on Oct. 8. (Video: Reuters)

“The ejection technologies will include a deployment system for forming vapor clouds in space for wind and ionosphere studies and ejectable sub-payloads testing data transmissions between sub and main-payloads during suborbital rocket flights, primarily during auroral studies,” NASA writes.

For the latest status of the launch so you can know when to look, follow NASA Wallops Twitter feed or Facebook page.

The launch will depend on clear weather and the absence of any technical problems.  The launch window extends through October 12 if tonight’s attempt is scrubbed.