NASA sounding rocket releases artificial clouds above mid-Atlantic

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A NASA sounding rocket launched early this morning and lit up the skies over the U.S. East Coast with colorful clouds, ringing in an early July 4 celebration.

But at 4:25 Thursday morning, NASA was able to launch its Terrier-Improved Malemute sounding rocket, following 10 earlier failed attempts over the past month.

The agency has been trying to launch the rocket from Wallops Flight Facility since May 31, with no success. Scientists could use the red and blue-green artificial clouds that formed to track the movement of particles in Earth's ionosphere, which is in its upper atmosphere. The flight lasted eight minutes. (Obviously, delaying the mission over half a dozen times was all part of the plan.) To that end, NASA was successful: According to a press release, Wallops received roughly 2,000 reports and photos of cloud signings, from NY to North Carolina. These tracers were deployed at altitudes of about 96 to 124 miles (154 to 200 kilometers).

Ground cameras were stationed at Wallops and in Duck, North Carolina, to view the vapor tracers.

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The mission deployed ten soda-can-sized canisters, each containing cloud-forming vapour, roughly 100 miles above the surface just before 5 a.m. (EDT).

From start to finish, the mission elapsed time stood at approximately 8 minutes, with the payload (which was not recovered) splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean some 90 miles (145 kilometers) from the launch site.

It was clear along the coast of Virginia, and if you looked closely, you might have seen some glowing spots in the clouds around D.C. and Baltimore, and even into Pennsylvania.