Science

A NASA rocket may be visible in Massachusetts Wednesday. Here’s how to see it.

The launch of the Black Brant XII sounding rocket was set for Tuesday night. It's now been pushed to Wednesday.

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.

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.”

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The vapors will be released between 217 and 249 miles above the Atlantic Ocean, according to NASA.

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.

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Live coverage of the launch will be streamed on the Wallops IBM video site and launch status updates will be posted on the Wallops Facebook and Twitter accounts.

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