(NASA)

Updated launch time for tonight: 9:05-9:20 pm

For the seventh time on Tuesday night, the engineers at NASA Wallops tried to launch the Terrier-Improved Malemute rocket. And for the seventh time, they were prevented from doing so — this time by clouds. Meanwhile, people in the capital have been eagerly awaiting the launch. Many have even gone so far as to set up camp down at the Tidal Basin in the evening to get a good shot of the “artificial aurora” this mission is expected to create.

NASA preemptively moved the launch to Friday night because of poor weather conditions. It was originally scheduled for Thursday night.

The mission’s goal is to create colorful clouds so scientists can study the movement of the upper atmosphere. Depending on the conditions, the clouds may be seen anywhere from New York to North Carolina.

But the mission scientists can’t get the data they need if the skies are already cloudy. And that’s what happened Tuesday night. Previous attempts have also been scrubbed due to clouds, boats in the “no boating” zone or unfavorable upper-level winds.

The next attempt will be Friday between 9:05 p.m. and 9:20 p.m.

There were many disappointed rocket watchers Tuesday evening, including the Capital Weather Gang. Our plan was to photograph the launch over the Jefferson Memorial.

Kevin Ambrose, the Capital Weather Gang photographer, set up his camera facing southeast on the Tidal Basin on both Monday and Tuesday evenings hoping to photograph the rocket launch and the colorful, artificial clouds that would follow. While he waited for the launch, he photographed the Tidal Basin scenes at sunset and during the blue hour.

There are 10 canisters of chemicals on board this rocket, which will begin to deploy about four minutes after launch. The chemicals will mix with the atmosphere to create artificially colored clouds so scientists can study the way air moves at very high altitudes. Cameras are set up at Wallops (on Virginia’s Eastern Shore about 150 miles from Washington) and in Duck, N.C., to track the color tracers through the air.

Three chemicals will interact to form the color tracers — barium, strontium and cupric-oxide. None of these chemicals will be a hazard to anyone on the coast.

Scroll below the graphic to read how to see it.


This map shows when you can expect to see the launch. For everyone outside the immediate launch area, it will take about 220 seconds to appear. (NASA)

Launch window: Thursday, 9:04 p.m. to 9:19 p.m.

What you could see: Colorful clouds, aurora-like glowing

How to see it: Head outside at 9 p.m. and look toward Wallops Flight Facility (if you’re in the D.C. area, that’s southeast). Find an area that gives you a relatively unobstructed view of the sky. Take some binoculars — they might help you see the event better. On your smartphone, pull up NASA TV on YouTube or follow @NASA Wallops on Twitter so you know when the launch is happening or if it’s canceled.

Approximately four minutes after the rocket launches, the canisters will be deployed. At this point, you should see colorful clouds or even an aurora-like glow. We’ve never seen something like this ourselves, so we don’t know exactly what to expect!

If you get photos of the event, send them to us on Twitter or Facebook, or via email!


Monday’s sunset view facing southeast toward the launch site at Wallops Island. The rocket launch was scrubbed due to the cloud deck visible in this photo near the horizon. (Kevin Ambrose)

There was a repeat performance of clouds on Tuesday evening. This was the sunset view Tuesday facing southeast toward the launch site at Wallops Island. The rocket launch was scrubbed for the sixth time Tuesday, due to clouds. (Kevin Ambrose)

This is Tuesday’s blue hour view of the Jefferson Memorial, shot 10 minutes before the scheduled rocket launch. The launch was scrubbed once again due to clouds. Will NASA’s artificial clouds have more vivid color than this blue hour view? We’ll have to wait and see. (Kevin Ambrose)

A view of how the artificial aurora appears in the sky. (NASA)