NASA rocket launch Saturday could briefly be visible in metro Detroit

Posted at 7:03 AM, May 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-07 19:57:18-04

(WXYZ) — A rocket launching from NASA's Wallops Island Flight Facility in Virginia may provide a brief light show in metro Detroit on Saturday night.

The mission is scheduled for 8:02 p.m. on Saturday, May 8 with a 40-minute launch window after 8:02 p.m.

A four-stage Black Brant XII rocket will be used for the mission and it includes the release of barium vapor that will form two green-violet clouds that may be visible for about 30 seconds. In metro Detroit, it will likely be visible 60-90 seconds after launch.

There will be higher clouds in the afternoon and evening in metro Detroit, but make sure you're looking to the eastern sky just after launch time around 8 p.m.

"Immediately after release of the vapor, the spherical clouds are a mixture of green and violet, but that phase only lasts about 30 seconds when the un-ionized component of the cloud has diffused away. After exposure to sunlight the vapor clouds quickly ionize and take on a violet color. The ionized portion of the cloud becomes tied to the magnetic field lines and diffuses parallel to the field lines but not perpendicular to it. In the mid-Atlantic region latitudes, the field lines are inclined by about 45 degrees to the horizontal, so the violet clouds stretch out in a slanted orientation and look more like short trails than a cloud. Because the motion of the neutral portion of the clouds is not constrained by the magnetic field lines, they spread out more quickly and become too thin to see with the naked eye much sooner than the ionized component," a NASA description reads.

You can watch NASA's live stream of the launch beginning at 7:40 p.m. on their site here.