Colors during sunrise and sunset are known to be bold and beautiful across the desert southwest, but something unusual happened Wednesday morning.
Reports of a strange pink cloud began pouring in this morning all across Arizona, New Mexico, and California while the sky was still black.
The explanation behind the colorful phenomena: A NASA rocket releasing water vapor more than 100 miles above the earth.
The rocket launched this morning from the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, more than 580 miles away!
Here is the full release from NASA regarding the launch and test.
NASA Rocket Launches Research Lab Experiment
White Sands Missile Range, N.M., Feb. 24, 2015 – Early in the morning Feb. 25, a NASA Terrier
-Black Brant research rocket will lift off from White Sands Missile Range in southern New Mexico,
carrying an experiment to study ionization in space just beyond the reaches of the Earth’s atmosphere.
The rocket carries a payload designed by scientists and engineers from the Air Force Research
Laboratory’s Space Vehicles Directorate at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M. The rocket lifting the
experiment into space is sponsored by the Department of Defense’s Space Test Program, also based
at Kirtland AFB. The NASA Wallops Flight Facility Sounding Rocket Program is providing the technical
expertise for the rocket assembly, payload integration, and launch support.
Designed to reach an altitude of over 100 miles, the research rocket will release 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 processes responsible for formation of the Earth’s ionosphere, the region of near-Earth space
where electrons naturally separate from molecules and float separately to create a plasma, or ionized
gas. Colorful clouds may be visible over southern N.M. near dawn as the sun illuminates the vapor
before it diffuses harmlessly away into space. Ground stations across the southwest will be used to
take a variety of measurements of the ionosphere during the experiment. The ionosphere was
originally discovered a century ago as scientists tried to explain how radio waves could follow the
curvature of the Earth across the Atlantic Ocean instead of shooting straight out into space. Today,
many processes remain to be understood before scientists can accurately predict the day-to-day
“weather” in this region of space surrounding the Earth.
The ground stations will also gather data on day-to-day fluctuations in the ionosphere, which
changes greatly from day to night and with the passage of natural wave-like structures referred to as
traveling ionospheric disturbances. Data collected from this experiment will be used to develop
enhanced models of ionospheric disturbances in near-Earth space and their effects on modern
The launch from White Sands Missile Range allows for a safe recovery of the rocket and payload
within the range.