Category Archives: Alerts

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.

Potential for Mid-May Aurora prompts G1 and G2 storm watch

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Northern Lights Now – The large coronal hole that was pointed directly towards Earth on May 12th and 13th combined with recent solar disturbances prompted space weather forecasters to predict there will be an extended period of aurora activity the third week of May. The Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) issued storm watches for three consecutive days with a G1 watch posted for May 16, and G2 watches posted for both May 17 and 18. A G1 storm watch means KP values will likely exceed 4.67 during the 24 hour period, a G2 storm watch means the KP will likely exceed 5.67.

SWPC Notifications timeline shows a G1 watch issued for 5/16 and G2 watches on 5/17 and 5/18
SWPC Notifications timeline shows a G1 watch issued for 5/16 and G2 watches on 5/17 and 5/18

The coronal hole responsible for the expected activity stretched from North to South on the solar disk on May 13. In the image below, the coronal hole is the outlined darker area at the time it was directed towards Earth. High speed solar wind exiting from that region should arrive at Earth around May 16. As it arrives, expect solar wind speed readings from DSCOVR to increase, possibly to as high as 600 km/s. As the higher wind pushes on Earth’s magnetosphere, KP will read higher and any aurora will be stronger during periods of negative Bz.

Coronal Hole Faces Earth on May 13, 2017
Coronal Hole Faces Earth on May 13, 2017

After the initial coronal hole impact, there are two additional features that should impact Earth this week. Part two of this storm will be the arrival of a slow moving CME that launched from the southern hemisphere of the Sun on May 13. This CME is visible on LASCO C2 and C3 imagery, but it is faint. There is a decent chance it will miss Earth entirely to the south and we may see nothing from it. But it may also arrive at Earth as a glancing blow. This is a low confidence forecast, but if it does hit there could be G2 storming due the the magnetosphere already being activated by the initial coronal hole. Here’s an animatedGIF of the CME lauching as seen by LASCO C3:

AnimatedGIF of LASCO C3 shows a faint cloud of Plasma lifting off the Sun, mostly to the South
AnimatedGIF of LASCO C3 shows a faint cloud of Plasma lifting off the Sun, mostly to the South

Finally the third portion of this storm is most promising and is expected to impact Earth on 5/19 and 5/20. This second coronal hole produced great activity on the previous rotation in April. NLN will keep you updated with more information about this CH as it’s structure becomes evident.

Please monitor the Northern Lights Now Twitter feed and the live KP charts for updates on when it may be a good time to go out and watch the northern or southern lights dance.

Happy Hunting