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NASA launch sparks light show on final possible day

A Black Brant XII rocket carrying the KiNET-X payload launched from Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia at 8:44 p.m. Sunday. The mission released vapor tracers to explore energy transfer in space.
A Black Brant XII rocket carrying the KiNET-X payload launched from Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia at 8:44 p.m. Sunday. The mission released vapor tracers to explore energy transfer in space. (NASA)

A Black Brant XII sounding rocket NASA launched Sunday night, an experiment the agency has tried to complete since last week. It was the last possible day for the launch, according to the launch time frame created by NASA.

The launch, which promised an interesting light show visible from Jacksonville and beyond, has been pushed back several times, first due to upper-level winds, then for an inspection.

Not only was the blast-off visible from much of the eastern United States and Bermuda, but the experiment it performs produced high-energy auroras in the sky.

Scientists hope to explore energy transport in space using a NASA suborbital sounding rocket that emits colorful vapor tracers to stimulate electrons in Earth’s near-space environment.

Map shows when the rocket may be visible after launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. Two vapor clouds will form north of Bermuda about 9 minutes and 30 seconds after launch.

The barium vapor clouds emitted from the rocket’s payload will generate a magnetic field perturbation that could energize electrons. NASA insists the barium vapor is not harmful to the environment or public health.

The process is similar to how auroras develop over the planet’s polar regions when particles in the Earth’s near-space environment interact with the atmosphere, although it is not expected to form as many visible colorful clouds.

NASA mission, called KiNET-X, is designed to study a very fundamental problem in space plasmas, namely, how energy and momentum are transported between different regions of space that are magnetically connected.

Live coverage of the mission will be available on the Wallops IBM video site (previously Ustream) beginning at 7:40 p.m. on launch day. Launch status updates can be found on the Wallops Facebook and Twitter sites.

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