NASA Rocket Launch Lights Up Jap Skies : NPR

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Joshua Guirguis saw a trail of steam hurtling across the sky in Marlton, New Jersey. Joshua Guirguis hid the caption

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Joshua Guirguis

Joshua Guirguis saw a trail of steam hurtling across the sky in Marlton, New Jersey

Joshua Guirguis

Swaths of east coast travelers gazing up at the night sky on Sunday were treated to a light show courtesy of NASA’s Black Brant XII rocket. And they have the pictures to prove it.

The missile launched from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia at 8:44 p.m. ET. But it was the “steam traps” released into the atmosphere that most of the spectators spotted shooting across the sky.

Francis Murphy was in Assawoman, Virginia, across from NASA Wallops Flight Facility when he caught the launch of the KiNET-X mission. Francis Murphy hide caption

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Francis Murphy

Francis Murphy was in Assawoman, Virginia, across from NASA Wallops Flight Facility when he caught the launch of the KiNET-X mission.

Francis Murphy

On Twitter, those who recorded the event shared photos of the wispy, phantom-like fumes that were floating across the Atlantic in response to NASA’s tweet announcing the launch. Others saw clouds glow bright green or purple – a short-lived effect that occurs when the barium vapor ionizes when exposed to sunlight (although the purple sightings are rare, the space agency says because the human eye can’t see the color very well in the darkness.)

The purpose of the mission? Explore energy transfer in space. NASA uses the steam traps to track the movement of winds and ions in the upper atmosphere.

“The mission, known as the KiNETic-Scale Energy and Momentum Transport Experiment (KiNet-X), aims to investigate a very fundamental problem in space plasmas, namely how energy and momentum are transported between different regions of space that are magnetically connected.” “Read a NASA press release.

The air show could be visible along most of the eastern United States from the Atlantic coast to the Mississippi and Bermuda, NASA said.

The sounding rocket ejected the steam into flight for about 10 minutes at an altitude of over 200 miles, giving the bright hues only a half-minute window for viewing.

Several people watching under Bermuda’s clear skies captured some of the sharpest photos of the neon green glare.