NASA rocket launch will leave colorful clouds in the sky tonight

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A long exposure of the night sky at the Wallops Flight Facility on Chincoteague Island, Virginia from a previous launch.(NASA)

WALLOPS ISLAND, Va.– NASA has tried nearly a dozen times over the last month to launch a rocket that will create colorful clouds in our skies.

Yet, the weather has had a different idea.

Windy weather and too many clouds has forced NASA scientists to cancel all of those launches last-minute.

Tonight, scientists believe the weather will cooperate, and between 4:15 and 4:45 A.M. Thursday morning, you’ll be able to see some colorful clouds right from your backyard.

Scientists want to create these artificially made and colored clouds so that they can study how small particles move in space near Earth.

The colors making up the clouds will act as dye tracers so that NASA can more easily see how the small particles, making up the clouds, move.

This is the rocket that will release the dye and tiny particles that will become clouds.

Small particles are common in space.  In fact, they’re common here on Earth.  When you see a hazy sky, water has condensed around tiny pollution or dust particles in our air.

In space, the sun constantly sends particles our way that have charge–a charge similar to the ones a battery or strong magnet have.  When these charges particles enter our air, they cause the Northern Lights.

This is what the Northern Lights can look like in some parts of the world.

Every once and a while, the sun sends way more of these charged particles than usual.  When this happens, the massive amount of charged particles can interact and disrupt radio or satellite signals and even our electric power grid.

This is why sciences want to better understand how small particles around the Earth move: they want to better forecast radio, GPS, and power grid disruptions.

PPL electricity bucket trucks in Lancaster County.

If you head out tonight, you have no problem seeing a big red-like cloud and a giant blue-green-like cloud.

They’ll pop up shortly after the rocket launches between 4:15 and 4:45 A.M. Thursday morning.

While they’ll appear in the southeast sky, there will be no missing or mistaking them when you look up.

As long as our skies stay clear, we’ll be able to see the clouds because we are just close enough to NASA’s Wallops Island, Virginia, launch facility.

This shows how soon communities near Virginia will see the colorful clouds.

Keep an eye on the latest launch time and if there the launch gets cancelled, here on NASA’s Wallops Island Twitter page.

If you can’t make it out tonight, the International Space Station crosses over your home many times throughout the year, and you can see that, too.

The International Space Station will look like a bright plane high in the sky.  It will smoothly move from one side of the sky to the other, but as it nears the the horizon or treeline on the other side of the sky, it will suddenly vanish!

This happens when the International Space Station enters the Earth’s shadow.  As soon as it does, the space station no longer has any sunlight to reflect so that we can see it.

NASA’s spot the station website.

Check out when it crosses next over your area, here.

-Meteorologist Drew Anderson

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