NASA Black Brant XII Rocket Launch Lights Up the Sky With Colorful Clouds

NASA Black Brant XII rocket carrying the KiNET-X payload from Wallops Flight Facility 1 photo
Photo: NASA via Twitter
NASA successfully launched a Black Brant XII rocket carrying the KiNET-X payload from Wallops Flight Facility on May 16th. The mission released colorful vapor tracers visible in much of the eastern United States from the Atlantic coast to the Mississippi River.
KiNETic-scale energy and momentum transport eXperiment, or KiNet-X for short, is part of NASA's mission designed to research energy transfers between magnetically linked regions of space. Previously set for May 8th, the launch had been repeatedly postponed due to unfavorable weather conditions. Now, after more than a week delay, a four-stage Black Brant XII rocket finally took off on Sunday at 8:44 p.m. EDT.

Around 10 minutes after launch, the aircraft released a harmless barium vapor at about 217-249 miles (349-400 km) altitude over the Atlantic Ocean and 540-560 miles (869-901 km) downrange from Wallops and just north of Bermuda. KiNet-X left behind two green-violet clouds that were visible for about half a minute on the Eastern sky.

The spectacle lasted shortly due to the un-ionized component of the colorful clouds that had diffused away immediately after the release of the vapor. The ionized part of the clouds tied in with the magnetic field lines and diffused parallel to them, creating the effect. Since the field lines are angled by around 45 degrees to the horizontal in the mid-Atlantic area latitudes, the violet clouds appeared more like trails than spherical clouds.

Even though NASA previously announced that KiNET-X clouds would be more difficult to spot than some of the prior vapor missions launched from Wallops, several people who witnessed the event posted on Twitter images and videos of the colorful vapors spreading across the East Coast skies in response to NASA's tweet announcing the launch. Some captured neon green clouds, while others captured more violet trails, depending on the time and place of the taken photographs.

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About the author: Florina Spînu
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Florina taught herself how to drive in a Daewoo Tico (a rebadged Suzuki Alto kei car) but her first "real car" was a VW Golf. When she’s not writing about cars, drones or aircraft, Florina likes to read anything related to space exploration and take pictures in the middle of nature.
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