Some Canadians may see display of colourful vapour clouds from NASA rocket launch Saturday
A four-stage Black Brant XII sounding rocket is seen in this photo. (NASA)
TORONTO -- Canadians living in the southeastern part of the country and parts of the Maritimes may be treated to a brief, but colourful light show on Saturday if the launch of NASA’s sounding rocket goes ahead as planned.
On Thursday, the space agency announced the launch of a four-stage Black Brant XII sounding rocket from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia had been postponed to Saturday, May 15 at 8:10 p.m. EDT at the earliest.
The launch has been scrubbed several times this week due to poor weather conditions and a launch support issue during preparations.
The mission, called the KiNETic-scale energy and momentum transport eXperiment, or KiNet-X, is intended to explore energy transport in space.
“Namely, how are energy and momentum transported between different regions of space that are magnetically connected?” NASA said in a release.
To do this, the suborbital sounding rocket will release barium vapour approximately 10 minutes after the launch when it’s just north of Bermuda.
The barium vapour is not harmful to the environment or public health, NASA said.
“Immediately after release of the vapor, the spherical clouds are a mixture of green and violet, but that phase only lasts about 30 seconds when the un-ionized component of the cloud has diffused away,” the space agency said.
After exposure to sunlight, NASA said the vapour clouds will quickly ionize and take on a violet colour. The ionized portion of the clouds will then become tied to the “magnetic field lines” and diffuse out into the sky.
“The violet clouds stretch out in a slanted orientation and look more like short trails than a cloud,” NASA explained. “Because the motion of the neutral portion of the clouds is not constrained by the magnetic field lines, they spread out more quickly and become too thin to see with the naked eye much sooner than the ionized component.”
NASA has also released a visibility map showing where the vapour clouds will be visible and for how long after the rocket is launched. In Canada, the clouds should be visible for 60 to 90 seconds or 90 to 120 seconds depending on the location.
Because of the later launch time, NASA warned the KiNET-X clouds may be difficult to see because the human eye does not see violet colours very well in darkness. However, interested spectators can still watch the launch live via the Wallops IBM video site in addition to looking up at the sky nine minutes after launch to see the clouds.