NASA rocket will form artificial clouds in space

The aurora science mission promises more than just the usual pyrotechnics.


When you watch a rocket launch, it's usually to enjoy the show put on by the rocket itself. With one of NASA's next launches, however, you'll likely be more interested in what's left behind. When one of two Black Brant IX rockets blasts off for an aurora science mission between February 13th and March 3rd, it'll form artificial clouds in space, around 60 to 100 miles above the Earth. The vehicle will deploy a small amount of trimethyl aluminum that should react with the atmosphere and produce white puffs that will help scientists track auroral winds.

Before you ask: NASA says the aluminum creates "absolutely no hazard" to people below. You see more aluminum in a fireworks show, it adds.

Just when the launch takes place will depend on both aurora activity and clear skies, so you may only get short notice. Also, there's a good chance that you'll need to stay up late to watch the livestream when the rocket will take off from Alaska's Poker Flat Research Range between 11PM and 4AM Eastern once it gets the all-clear. If you feel that modern rocket launches are a bit stale, though, it might be worth a look.