(Yet another new launch window – Sunday, June 18, 9:05-9:20.  June 13th scrubbed due to clouds, and thunderstorms in the forecast for the 14th and 15th.  This will be attempt number 8 at getting this mission underway.)

(New launch window – Tuesday,  June 13, 9:05-9:20. June 12 launch scrubbed due to clouds.  Thunderstorms are predicted for the area tonight – it will all come down to timing.)

(New launch window – Monday, June 12, 9:04-9:18pm EDT.  The 6/11 launch was scrubbed due to wind, haze, and boats in the recovery area.)

NASA has been trying for several weeks to get a suborbital launch out of Wallops Island on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.  For a variety of reasons, attempts have been delayed several times, and the window now covers this week – June 11-June18.  The first window will be between 9:04 and 9:18 pm TONIGHT, June 11.

The launch is intended to study particle interaction with the ionosphere, at altitudes above 62 miles where charged particles and the Earth’s magnetic field interact to form auroras – aka the northern and southern lights.  Although much of the motion at these altitudes is due to the solar wind and our magnetic field, there is a small amount of motion attributable to high-altitude winds in the very thin atmosphere.


Terrier-Improved Malemute – courtesy NASA

So, what NASA plans to do is launch a Terrier-Enhanced Malemute rocket into a suborbital trajectory (meaning it can leave the atmosphere, but will come back down and not achieve orbit), and then release several canisters of material that will serve as “tracers”, visible to observers on the ground, and allowing scientists to measure the strength and effect of those high-altitude winds.  Observers all through the mid-Atlantic can see this – NASA’s observation stations are at Wallops and in North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

c-rex_test_at_wallops_from_duckIn this case, barium (purple-blue), strontium (red), and cupric-oxide (green) will ionize and glow in the presence of sunlight high above the Earth.  Just as when we observe satellites (Iridum Flares, or the International Space Station, and others), we want to see the target in sunlight while we enjoy dark skies – so these launches will occur either soon after sunset (like tonight), or in the very early morning (4:30 am or so).  I don’t know about you, but evening is much preferred… so hopefully tonight will be a good time to see some nice high-altitude, glowing clouds.

Hopefully the chemtrail conspiracy theorists won’t freak out!

For more on these launches, check out the Wallops Island data (and broader launch schedule) here.

Oh, and one last item for those who prefer their sky-gazing to be all-natural:  Saturn is at opposition on the 14th (Wed).  That will be it’s closest approach to Earth, it will be “full”, and every night from then on out it will be a little higher in the evenings.  As I mentioned last week, viewing season for Saturn is upon us!

Get Out There




One thought on “Sounding Rocket Launch (Astronomy: Week of 6/11/17)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s