NASA says it successfully fired four sounding rockets into the Northern Lights above Alaska to gain a better understanding of turbulent atmospheric currents in the Earth's atmosphere.
The four launches all took place within 30 minutes from a site near Fairbanks.
"The Poker Flat Research Range was set for a perfect area to launch four rockets into the beautiful, aurora-filled sky early Monday morning because the weather was perfect for the launch," said researchers.
The successful launches came after a delay lasting 13 days caused by unsuitable weather.
The good weather on Monday -- 40 degrees below zero but clear -- made the launches possible and provided researchers sharp, clear views of the aurora, necessary for the gathering of data.
Two of the rockets were configured to release a visible vapor into the aurora, created using the gas trimethyl aluminum that glows white when mixed with oxygen, which will create vapor trails that can be photographed by a ground station to aid researchers in visualizing atmospheric turbulence some 60 miles above the earth.
"Describing such processes in circulation models is of broad interest, as turbulent and diffusive processes contribute to transport of heat and constituents throughout the atmosphere, impacting everything from pollution studies at the surface of the Earth to satellite drag in space," said Richard Collins from the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, which had designed experiments carried on two of the rockets.
The other two carried instruments designed and built by Clemson University.
The Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, happen when electrically charged particles from the sun enter the Earth's atmosphere via solar winds hitting the Earth's magnetic field. They rain down on the atmosphere, causing ionization and bright optical displays.
More than just a light show, auroras play a role in our planet's meteorological processes and have an impact on the planet's atmosphere, researchers say.