An unusual puffy pink cloud lit up the sky over New Mexico and Arizona early on Wednesday. The cloud stunned many residents who posted photographs online speculating about its cause.
In the end, the cloud was not a fireball or shooting star: It was a cloud of gas caused by a NASA research rocket that launched to study the outer reaches of Earth’s atmosphere. Check out an image of the cloud in the tweet below:
Researchers at the White Sands Missile Range in southern New Mexico explained the harmless fluffy phenomenon:
They said it was caused by a Terrier-Black Brant rocket designed to reach an altitude of more than 100 miles that released a small quantity of vapor – “about as much as is contained in a BBQ grill propane tank” – into the near-vacuum of space to study the formation of the ionosphere.
The ionosphere is the upper layer of the atmosphere that extends between 46 and 621 miles above Earth’s surface.
The White Sands scientists said in a statement the colourful cloud was formed “as the sun illuminates the vapor before it diffuses harmlessly away into space.”
Ground stations across the U.S. Southwest took a variety of measurements during the experiment. The data will be used to develop enhanced models of ionospheric disturbances in near-Earth space and their effects on modern technologies.
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