Blue Squids over Norway — Crazy Artificial Auroras

April 7, 2019: On April 5th in northern Norway, scientists at the Andøya Space Center launched two sounding rockets into an ongoing display of Northern Lights. When they dumped their payloads of chemical powders, the sky went wild with strangely-colored shapes. Frank Olsen photographed squid-like figures dancing over a beach near Andenes, Norway:

“Often canceled and rescheduled, this rocket launch has been planned for a year,” says Olsen. “How lucky we were to be there at the right time.”

The name of the rocket mission is AZURE–short for Auroral Zone Upwelling Rocket Experiment. Its goal is to measure winds and currents in the ionosphere, a electrically-charged layer of the Earth’s atmosphere where auroras appear. Specifically, mission scientist are interested in discovering how auroral energy might percolate down toward Earth to influence the lower atmosphere.

At the Alomar Observatory in northern Norway, space scientist Jason Ahrns used video cameras to track the motions of the clouds:

“I’m one of the scientists working with this launch, so we knew exactly when to expect it,” says Ahrns. “Even so, we were all stunned by how spectacular the display was, as it unfolded.”

The twin rockets deployed two chemical tracers: trimethyl aluminum (TMA) and a barium/strontium mixture. These mixtures create colorful clouds that allow researchers to visually track the flow of neutral and charged particles, respectively. According to NASA, which funded the mission, the chemicals pose no hazard to residents in the region.

Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery

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