Don't worry, it's just science!

Earlier this week, NASA researchers at the Poker Flat Research Range in Alaska launched four sounding rockets -- small, sub-orbital rockets that can take scientific measurements -- straight at the aurora borealis. The Northern Lights are pretty en0ugh on their own, NASA, no need to go showing off with a light show.

The launch carried two experiments: The Mesosphere-Lower Thermosphere Turbulence Experiment (M-Tex) and the Mesopheric Inversion-layer Stratified Turbulence (MIST). Auroras are caused by the interaction of solar wind (charged particles shooting out from the sun) and the atmosphere, and these experiments aim to collect data on the interactions between our upper atmosphere and solar energy.

Slate's Phil Plait explains the MIST experiment -- which leaves traces of its payload in the photo above -- on his blog:

The weird feathery glow is part of one of the scientific experiments launched. Called MIST, for Mesospheric Inversion-layer Stratified Turbulence, it releases a compound called tri-methyl aluminum tracer, which creates white expanding clouds. The shape of the cloud can be used to measure the amount of turbulence in the mesosphere, the layer of atmosphere about the stratosphere. The experiment was done in part to see how various molecules in the air are transported vertically in the upper atmosphere.

Another one of the probes was designed to study how auroras and other solar interactions affect satellite orbits. "Solar winds produce electric currents in the upper atmosphere where auroral activity occurs," Utah State University's Charles Swanson told Fast Company, "and those currents produce heat that can expand the thermosphere which increases the drag on satellites significantly."

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