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September 14, 2009

Wallops rocket to release artificial cloud Tues.

noctilucent clouds/NASAUPDATE: 8:00 p.m. Tonight's launch attempt was scrubbed due to bad weather. No word yet on when they will try again. Earlier post follows:

Sky watchers in the mid-Atlantic region may get a look at an odd artificial cloud Tuesday night after it's released from the fourth stage of a rocket set for launch from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on the Eastern Shore.

The cloud of aluminum particles from the rocket's exhaust is expected to provide scientists with insights into the physics of "noctilucent clouds," the highest natural clouds (around 50 miles up) that form in the Earth's atmosphere. That's a NASA photo of such clouds, above.

The experiment, called "Charged Aerosol Release Experiment" (CARE), is being conducted by the Naval Research Laboratory and the Pentagon's Space Test Program. Also involved are NASA, the University of Michigan, the Air Force Research Laboratory, Clemson, Stanford and Penn State universities, the University of Colorado and MIT.

The launch window for the experiment opens at 7:40 p.m. Tuesday, and closes at 7:57 p.m. Weather forecasters gave the launch a 60 percent chance of favorable weather. Clear skies are needed up and down the coast to provide multiple camera locations with a view of the cloud.Black Brant sounding rocket

Backup dates for the launch are each evening Sept. 16-20, but the weather is expected to deteriorate this week. The next opportunity would come next month.

The experiment is being carried by a 65-foot Black Brant 12 rocket, a sub-orbital vehicle used frequently by scientists at Wallops. The rocket is programmed to climb 180 miles above the Earth - much higher than the altitude of natural noctilucent clouds - and 98 miles down range (east) from Virginia's Eastern Shore.

Observers should watch for the cloud to be released about six minutes after launch. If skies are clear, the sinuous white cloud should become visible in the eastern sky after its release.

To follow the launch via Webcast,  For Twitter updates, go to Or call the recorded updates at 757-824-2050.

And as always, any WeatherBlog readers who see it are invited to come back here and leave comments describing the event for those who miss it.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:04 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Sky Watching

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About Frank Roylance
This site is the Maryland Weather archive. The current Maryland Weather blog can be found here.
Frank Roylance is a reporter for The Baltimore Sun. He came to Baltimore from New Bedford, Mass. in 1980 to join the old Evening Sun. He moved to the morning Sun when the papers merged in 1992, and has spent most of his time since covering science, including astronomy and the weather. One of The Baltimore Sun's first online Web logs, the Weather Blog debuted in October 2004. In June 2006 Frank also began writing comments on local weather and stargazing for The Baltimore Sun's print Weather Page. Frank also answers readers’ weather queries for the newspaper and the blog. Frank Roylance retired in October 2011. Maryland Weather is now being updated by members of The Baltimore Sun staff

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