NASA to Launch Colorful Fake Clouds Near NC Coast Sunday Morning

A Terrier Improved-Malemute suborbital rocket takes off Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016 at Wallops Flight Facility.

WALLOPS ISLAND, Va.-- Here comes another visual treat from NASA for Eastern Shore residents, but they will have to get up early to enjoy it. 

Wallops Flight Facility plans to launch a Terrier-Improved Malemute sounding rocket that will deploy colorful clouds of vapor in space.

The blue-green and red clouds should be visible from New York south to North Carolina and as far west as Charlottesville, Virginia, NASA said.

The flight, scheduled to lift off between 4:25-4:42 a.m., is designed to test a new system of deploying the clouds, which are used in studying the ionosphere and aurora, scientists say.

Previously, the clouds could only be released in the immediate area of the payload. This time, a new ejection system will fire 10 canisters, each about the size of a soda can, between 6 and 12 miles away from the main payload.

The canisters are set to be deployed between four and five and a half minutes after launch. The clouds help scientists on the ground visually track particle motions in space. Scientists will use ground cameras based at Wallops and Duck, North Carolina, to monitor the results.

NASA estimates people living along the coast from New York City to North Carolina should be able to spot the clouds, including Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. People as far west as Charlottesville, Va., may also be able to get a view.

If you don’t live near the coast, NASA will stream the mission starting at 3:45 a.m. from its Wallops Ustream website.

Using the new deployment method should allow scientists to study the particles over a much wider area, NASA said.

The vapor "tracers" consist of chemicals such as barium, strontium and cupric-oxide. They are to be released at altitudes 96-124 miles high and pose "absolutely no hazard" to residents along the mid-Atlantic coast, officials say.

The total flight time for the mission is expected to be about 8 minutes. Backup launch days are scheduled through June 6. The originally launch date was May 31.

The visitor center at Wallops will open at 3:30 a.m. on launch day for viewing the flight.

If you don’t live near the coast, NASA will stream the mission starting at 3:45 a.m. from its Wallops Ustream website.

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