Rocket launch will light up the South Jersey sky with luminescent clouds

Luminescent clouds may light up the Sunday night sky, as it did in this 2012 photo, when a rocket launch from Wallops Island Virginia produces "glow-in-the-dark" clouds after it lifts off about 9 p.m. If skies are clear, South Jersey should be able to see it by looking toward the southeast sky.

Chris Bakely / Provided

Will the sixteenth attempt finally be the successful one for the rocket that just can't seen to get off the ground? If it finally does, South Jersey will be treated to some colorful, luminescent clouds that the rocket will produce.

If the weather cooperates, a research rocket launch from the NASA facility on Wallops Island, Virginia on the Delmarva peninsula will be attempted once again, between 4:15 a.m. and 4:45 a.m. early Thursday morning.  

Initial forecasts show mostly clear skies and favorable winds, but the rocket's unlucky fortunes over the past month may not have everyone rushing to get up before dawn.

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Every attempt to launch the rocket so far has been scrubbed since late May, due to clouds, boats, and winds. At least seven attempts have been scrubbed within minutes of launch due to uncooperative weather and wayward boats in the launch area. Another eight attempts were postponed well in advance due to unfavorable weather forecasts. That's fifteen in total.

When the launch finally takes place, South Jersey will have a prime seat for viewing multicolored, glow-in-the-dark clouds, if the weather cooperates with clear skies for viewing.

Press of Atlantic City meteorologist Dan Skeldon will be streaming live during the event beginning at 3:55 a.m. on Facebook, if the launch attempt isn't canceled in advance due to poor weather conditions.

To view the launch, look to the south-southeast sky, which should be clear given the current forecast. The beach is a great spot or any dark area with a view of the southeast horizon.

According to NASA, 10 canisters about the size of a soda can will be deployed from the rocket 4 to 5½ minutes after launch. They will produce blue-green and red vapors that will form artificial clouds. These clouds, or vapor tracers, allow scientists on the ground to visually track particle motions in space.

The vapor tracers may be visible as far north as New York and as far south as North Carolina, depending on the weather.

The vapor tracers are formed through the interaction of barium, strontium and black copper oxide, according to NASA. The tracers will be released at altitudes 96 to 124 miles high and pose no hazard to residents along the mid-Atlantic coast.

NASA expects the total flight time for the mission to be about eight minutes.

The payload will land in the ocean about 90 miles from Wallops Island. It will not be recovered, NASA said.

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