If you happen to be at the Poker Flat Research Range in Alaska later this month and see clouds in the sky, do a double take — there’s a good chance they might be fake.
Between February 13 and March 3, NASA will launch a rocket that will form white artificial clouds during its 10-minute flight. This rocket is one of five being launched from January through March to explore the aurora and how it interacts with Earth’s upper atmosphere and ionosphere, or the layer of Earth’s atmosphere with a high concentration of ions.
Between 7 p.m. and midnight Alaskan Time, NASA will launch two 56-long Black Brant IX rockets almost simultaneously, but only the lower latitude rocket will form fake white clouds. The launch depends on clear skies and auroral activity.
Aurora lights are caused by “electrons from space colliding with oxygen and nitrogen in Earth’s upper atmosphere,” according to NASA, and they move in harmony with Earth’s magnetic field, forming stunning natural light displays in the sky.
Scientists on the ground will track the winds within the aurora using a vapor tracer cloud of trimethyl aluminum (TMA), which can help them see the winds better and will be released 60 to 100 miles high. When TMA is exposed to the atmosphere, it reacts with oxygen.
If you want to take a look at the rocket launch and fake clouds, you can watch a live stream here.