On Friday, April 5, two sounding rockets were launched in a spaceport in northern Norway, creating a spectacular light show in the sky.
The launches were a part of Auroral Zone Upwelling Rocket Experiment, better known as AZURE, an effort backed by NASA that aims to study the flow of particles in the ionosphere. Two Black Brant XI-A sounding rockets launched from the Andøya Space Center at 10:14 p.m. UTC.
When the two sounding rockets reached an altitude of 320 kilometers, they released visible gases like trimethylaluminum and a barium mixture that ionize when exposed to sunlight. The gases created colorful clouds visible from the ground.
According to the U.S. space agency, the movement of the colorful clouds and their dispersion allowed scientists to observe the flow of particles in two key regions of the atmosphere.
Glowing Lights In The Sky
The mission posed no harm to the residents of northern Norway, but the launches caused a bit of a panic among people who were not expecting to witness the artificial light show this weekend. According to VOL, a Norwegian news website, the police received several reports about the glowing lights, which admittedly looked like an alien invasion scene straight out of a sci-fi movie.
"[When] strange lights and colorful, expanding clouds appeared I first did not have an explanation for," said a resident who was able to capture the colorful lights in the sky via Science Alert. "It looked like an alien attack."
The time-lapse video below shows two orange dots and then expanding glowing clouds in the sky. On the background is a real aurora, a natural show of dancing lights that are products of the collision between the Earth's atmosphere and particles from the sun.
Understanding The Area Separating Earth And Outer Space
AZURE is part of a larger effort called The Grand Challenge Initiative — Cusp, an international collaboration of scientists that aims to study the ionosphere where the lines of the magnetic field bends and particles from Earth mixes with particles from outer space. The launches on Friday are only first of the eight rockets that will be deployed over the next two years from the Andøya and Svalbard spaceports in Norway.