Traces dropped from a pair of NASA Black Brant XI sounding rockets produced a spectacular light show in Northern Europe. The tracers were part of the agency’s Auroral Zone Upwelling Rocket Experiment (AZURE) and will be followed by several more launches.
The pair of Black Brant XI rockets were launched at 22:14 and 22:16 UTC on April 8 from the Andøya Space Center in Norway. Shortly after launch, trimethyl aluminium (TMA) and barium/strontium tracers were deployed at altitudes of between 114 and 249 kilometres. The tracers ionize when they are exposed to sunlight allowing researchers to “track the flow of neutral and charged particles.”
The result of the experiment to the average joe was a spectacular light show. Although no official footage of the experiment has yet been released, a local in Norway, Michael Theusner managed to capture a spectacular 17-second time-lapse.
Following the completion of the mission, NASA officials confirmed it had been successful and that researchers were pleased with the results.
“The initial assessment from the field showed that the rockets were launched into a good science event and ground-based photos/data of the vapour releases were obtained from at least two locations. Preliminary reports state that the scientist for the mission were very pleased with the results.”
The April 8 launch is the first of eight sounding rocket missions set to be launched in aid of NASA’s AZURE mission. As of yet, it is unclear when the next launch is expected.