All posts by Charles Baldridge

Charles Baldridge a data scientist with a passion for studying space weather and chasing the northern lights. He has been lucky enough to see aurora in person on multiple occasions in his hometown of Burlington Vermont.

Finally – East coast may see colorful clouds from NASA Wallops Sounding Rocket Test On Fathers Day

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Northern Lights Now – After several scrubs, NASA looks set to successfully launch a Terrier Improved Malemute sounding rockets on Father’s Day, Sunday evening June 18, between 9:04 and 9:20 pm. The mission will deploy gasses into the ionosphere that hopefully will be visible as different colored high altitude clouds. Scientists are hoping to measure and track gas particle movements within these clouds. It is expected that the experiment will test some aurora imaging technologies, and the data may help use get a better understanding of Aurora. You may be able to see this launch if you live in the shaded areas in the map below!

Areas where it may be possible to see the Father's Day sounding rocket launch
Areas where it may be possible to see the Father’s Day sounding rocket launch

NASA scientists need it to be clear at either the launch site or nearby Duck, North Carolina to study the induced clouds. Several recent scrubs have been the result of skies that were too cloudy or hazy to be able to see the experiment. Another scrub was the result of boats in the “danger zone,” the area where the sounding rocket is expected to land in the ocean at the end of it’s task.

So far, it’s looking like the weather could be touch and go. The forecast calls for a chance of thunderstorms. An ill-timed thunderstorm arrival could make for yet another scrub. If the storms roll through at 6:00 and it clears out – there’s a good chance the launch will happen this time as long as boaters stay out of the danger zone.

What will I see During the the DC launch and test?

Viewers from New York City South to Greenville, North Carolina have a chance to see the rocket itself and the induced clouds. It is hard to know what the clouds will look like, but reports are that they may look similar to aurora or noctilucent clouds. However they look, it may be possible to see them with your bare eyes. The timing of the launch coincides with nautical twilight, so it will be after sunset, but there will still be a little light in the air.

To increase your odds of seeing this show, bring your digital camera and a tripod. Photographing these clouds will be similar to photographing aurora – and a great chance to practice! You don’t need a high end camera, but you will need to be able to manually set Aperture, ISO and exposure duration. Photograph the clouds with long exposures (1-5 seconds) and higher ISO (800-3200). Set your focus to infinity and consider a delay on the camera between hitting the trigger and when the image start so the camera can settle. If you get a great image, be sure to share it on NLN’s Twitter feed

What is a Sounding Rocket?

Sounding rockets are small instrument-carrying rockets designed to cost effectively reach altitudes between 50 and 1500 km. This is between the area that weather balloons can reach and where it is coast effective to send a satellite. They are frequently used in research because a mission can be designed and completed in months to years compared to the years it may take to get an experiment aboard a satellite mission. NASA has a terrific quick 5 minute video talking about sounding rockets and an experiment they were used for to study aurora

Images of several different sounding rockets
Images of several different sounding rockets

Happy Hunting!

NASA Wallops Aurora Study Mission is Live

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Tonight’s launch was scrubbed at 9:13 tonight. Three reasons for tonight’s scrub:

1) Wind – but it decreased just before launch window
2) Haze – would make it difficult to study the artificial aurora
3) Boats – people piloted their boats into the hazard area.

Next Launch window is probably tomorrow night.

G3 Aurora lights up the Sky Memorial Day weekend 2017

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Northern Lights Now – It may be approaching the quieter part of the Solar cycle, but the Sun isn’t done giving Aurora hunters eye candy yet. A solar storm launched on May 23 from the Sun arrived at Earth with a bang late Saturday. The setup of the storm was great for viewing aurora, the Moon was a waxing crescent, it was the weekend, many of the top viewing spots had clear skies, and the CME was oriented in a nearly perfect angle.

Check out NLN’s top 100 tweets page from this storm.

In Vermont, this turned out to be one of the best storms I have personally seen. The KP started rising quickly mid-to-late afternoon. Around Sunset the KP hit 6.33 – high enough that it should be possible to see the aurora dance. By 1:00am it was full on “Pants on” time. I drove to Malletts Bay.

As I arrived, the sky was dancing. Another photographer was just finishing up a half hour time-lapse. Even with some light pollution from Colchester, Montreal, and Plattsburgh, it was easy to see the sky glowing and pillars moving. Lake Champlain was calm so it was possible to see the aurora reflecting off the water.

Epic Aurora and reflections off Lake Champlain During G3 storming on Memorial Day Weekend 2017
Epic Aurora and reflections off Lake Champlain During G3 storming on Memorial Day Weekend 2017

With the Bz solidly below -15nT, the show would go on for 6+ hours. Like any northern lights, the intensity varied from minute to minute. At times it looked like the show might be over. At other times I felt like the luckiest guy on Earth.

One of those lucky moments was getting to watch a meteor streak and flash through the sky. My camera wasn’t pointed in the right direction (or in an exposure at the moment), but a fellow photographer and friend caught it! Here is Brian Drourr’s photo from the moment it streaked by

What an Epic night!
Happy Hunting