Tue January 29, 2013
If You're Along The Eastern Seaboard, Look Up! NASA Has A Light Show For You
If you're along the Eastern Seaboard tonight, it might be worth your while to look at the sky this evening.
NASA's Wallops Flight Facility is scheduled to launch a sounding rocket that will release "two red-colored lithium vapor trails in space."
As Space.com reports, those trails might be seen across the Mid-Atlantic and perhaps as far north as Canada and as far south as northern Florida.
Space.com explains how these trails will produce a "night sky show:"
"The sounding rocket that will be used to create the two NASA-made glowing cloud trails will be a Terrier-Improved Orion.In this technology test launch, two canisters in the rocket's payload section will contain solid metal lithium rods or chips embedded in a thermite cake. The thermite is ignited and produces heat to vaporize the lithium.
"Once the vapor is released in space, it can be detected and tracked optically. The rocket will eject two streams of lithium which will be illuminated at high altitudes by the sun (which will be below the local horizon at ground level)."
In a statement, mission project manager Libby West said the launch is a test flight for two upcoming missions. It'll give scientists a view of two different methods for creating lithium vapor trails.
By the way, NASA says the "lithium combustion process poses no threat to the public during the release in space."
The launch is scheduled for 5:45 p.m ET, but the launch window extends from 5:30 p.m. to 6:50 p.m. The Wallops facility will update the mission status on its twitter feed.
Space.com has put together a nice city-by-city chart on where to look if you want to catch a glimpse of the action.