Thursday morning update
NASA’s sixth attempt to launch the Black Brant XII rocket was postponed Wednesday “to provide time for inspection of the rocket after the vehicle came in contact with a launcher support,” the agency tweeted. The next attempt, its seventh, is 8:02 p.m. on Friday, more than a week after its first.
Wednesday morning update
On its fifth attempt, Tuesday night’s rocket launch was scrubbed due to weather again. NASA will try for a sixth time on Wednesday evening, starting at 8:06 p.m.
Tuesday morning update
On Tuesday evening, NASA will attempt for a fifth time to launch the Black Brant XII sounding rocket, starting at 8:05 p.m. Initially scheduled to launch on Thursday night, launches were scrubbed on that date, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday evening, mostly due to unfavorable weather.
Sunday night update
Sunday evening’s launch was scrubbed due to weather for a second straight day. NASA will try again Monday evening.
As Saturday night’s launch was scrubbed due to high winds, NASA will try again on Sunday. But winds could again be a concern, so confidence is low regarding liftoff prospects.
Article from Friday
A NASA rocket launch may provide some Saturday night lights for residents along the East Coast and Bermuda. There’s even a chance you might catch something faintly resembling the northern lights — but the odds are slim.
The Black Brant XII rocket, 55 feet tall and propelled by 116,000 pounds of thrust, will lift off from the Wallops Flight Facility along the southern tip of the Delmarva Peninsula. That means it will be most readily visible across the Mid-Atlantic.
It should appear in view about 10 to 20 seconds after liftoff for those within 100 miles of the launch site, which includes locations like Washington, Richmond and Salisbury, Md.
Philadelphia, New York, Boston and Charlotte can expect to wait 30 to 60 seconds before the launch fully comes into view.
The rocket will be traveling eastward, so you’d want to look toward the ocean. Find a spot with a clear view of the eastern horizon.
The launch will be easier to spot than the experiment itself, which will produce a small patch of light that may glow a diffuse green or violet. You probably won’t see any purple hues, but it’s not out of the question folks along the immediate coastline could spot some brief green luminance.
“The clouds [will be] toward the violet end of the color spectrum, which is more difficult for the human eye to see,” wrote Tony Rice, a science ambassador for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in an email. “This will likely be more challenging to see than previous similar artificial aurora released by sounding rockets.”
He says that the time of day won’t help either, since it’s around the time of sunset, meaning it will still be twilight in some areas. Rocket launches, like the SpaceX one that mesmerized the Mid-Atlantic on April 23, are best seen when the sky is sufficiently dark.
The effort is part of a NASA experiment to study energy transport in space. Scientists hope to learn how momentum and energy contained within plasma, gases that contain charged particles and glow, are distributed and transferred in regions where a magnetic field is present. Doing this means that NASA will generate their own plasma using barium vapor, in essence recreating the northern lights.
Barium is an Earth metal that’s highly reactive. The launch will produce two clouds of barium vapor, which will induce a local perturbation of the ambient magnetic field. That enhanced field could energize electrons, producing visible light. Scientists will be studying how the barium clouds interact, as well as how they align with the Earth’s magnetic field.
The Black Brant XII rocket will release the clouds from two small payloads as it’s 217 to 249 miles above Earth, about 9½ to 10 minutes into flight. By then, the rocket will be roughly 550 miles east of Wallops, or just north of Bermuda.
It “is not expected to form highly visible colorful clouds common to past missions from Wallops using vapor tracers,” according to NASA.
Four other payloads each about the size of a two-liter soda bottle, along with instrumentation on the main payload, will be used to collect data.
It’s not the first time that a rocket launch has triggered some unusual sights in the sky. On Feb. 25, 2015, residents in the western U.S. spotted a glowing splotch of red in the predawn sky. The culprit? A NASA rocket launch conducting an experiment in the ionosphere, or a region of the upper atmosphere with a sea of charged molecules.
An even weirder apparition was spotted over Norway on Dec. 9, 2009. An eerie glowing spiral with a conical blue horn took the Internet by storm. It was later concluded to be the result of a Russian missile test.