Weather permitting, residents of the Eastern U.S. and Bermuda may be able to see a NASA suborbital sounding rocket launch from Virginia’s Wallops Flight Facility on Friday.
The mission to explore energy transport in space is scheduled for no earlier than 8:02 p.m. ET and could be visible from the Atlantic coast to the Mississippi River.
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The four-stage Black Brant XII rocket will be used in the KiNETic-scale energy and momentum transport eXperiment, also known as KiNet-X.
In a Thursday release, NASA explained that KiNet-X is designed to study how energy and momentum are transported between different regions of space that are magnetically connected.
In order to do so, the rocket will release barium vapor — that NASA assures is not harmful — approximately 9 minutes and 30 seconds to 10 minutes after the launch at 217 to 249 miles over the Atlantic Ocean that will form two green-violet clouds just north of Bermuda.
After exposure to sunlight and 30 seconds have passed, the clouds will ionize and turn a violet hue, generating a magnetic field perturbation.
The ionized portion of the cloud then becomes tied to magnetic field lines and diffuses parallel to the field lines.
The mid-Atlantic field lines are inclined by around 45 degrees to the horizontal, so the violet clouds will appear slanted in the sky.
“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 said, adding that darkness would also potentially hinder observation.
Specialized cameras in Bermuda and on an aircraft will be used to observe the mission.
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NASA’s Wallops Visitor Center will not be open for launch viewing, though live coverage of the mission will be available on the Wallops IBM video site starting at 7:40 p.m. ET.
Should weather conditions prohibit the launch, backup launch days run through May 16.