It’s not a shooting star.
A NASA suborbital sounding rocket that was scheduled to launch Tuesday night in Virginia, but was postponed until Wednesday, is expected to be visible throughout much of the eastern United States, possibly including Massachusetts.
LAUNCH SCRUBBED ❗ Tonight’s launch of the KiNET-X sounding rocket has been scrubbed due to cloudy skies in Bermuda and Wallops. The next launch opportunity will be no earlier than May 12, at 8:06 p.m. EDT. Backup days run through May 16.
— NASA Wallops (@NASA_Wallops) May 12, 2021
The four-stage Black Brant XII rocket is slated to launch at 8:06 p.m. Wednesday. The anticipated liftoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility comes after several postponements, most recently on Tuesday night due to “cloudy skies in Bermuda and Wallops,” NASA said.
“The mission, called the KiNETic-scale energy and momentum transport eXperiment, or KiNet-X, is designed to study a very fundamental problem in space plasmas, namely, how are energy and momentum transported between different regions of space that are magnetically connected?” a statement on NASA’s website says.
The rocket will release barium vapor about 9 minutes and 30 seconds to 10 minutes after launch. NASA says the vapor is not harmful to the environment or public health.
When released, the vapor leaves spherical clouds that are “a mixture of green and violet” and last about 30 seconds until “the un-ionized component of the cloud has defused away,” officials said.
“After exposure to sunlight, the vapor clouds quickly ionize and take on a violet color,” NASA said, adding that violet colors are difficult to see in darkness for the human eye.
“The KiNET-X clouds will therefore be more difficult for the casual observer to see than some of the previous vapor missions launched from Wallops,” NASA’s statement said.
In a tweet, NASA explained vapor tracers are used to study atmospheric winds in the upper atmosphere and ionosphere by making it possible to “directly observe the winds.”
The vapors will be released between 217 and 249 miles above the Atlantic Ocean, according to NASA.
But why? 🤔
Scientist use vapor tracers primarily to study atmospheric winds in upper atmosphere and ionosphere. When released after launch, the tracers make it possible to directly observe the winds. The vapors release harmlessly between 217-249 miles above the Earth. pic.twitter.com/6i7b9aAW6f
— NASA Wallops (@NASA_Wallops) May 7, 2021
The 55-foot rocket itself will look “like a small dot moving quickly through the sky, similar to the International Space Station passing over, but much faster,” NASA said in another tweet.
Those in New England who want to catch a glimpse should look southeast, as the rocket will launch from Wallops Island, Virginia.
A map released by NASA last week indicates the rocket will be visible between 30 and 60 seconds after launch in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. In northern New Hampshire and northern Vermont, as well as most of Maine, the rocket will be visible 60 to 90 seconds after liftoff.
Peak rocket launch excitement 🚀🤩
We’re still counting down to open the launch window at 8:02 pm ET for 40 mins. But it’ll be tricky! We will have to wait and see if the winds settle down enough to launch the rocket, along with having clear skies here at Wallops and Bermuda. pic.twitter.com/5POjxNPChL
— NASA Wallops (@NASA_Wallops) May 8, 2021
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