March 27, 2012

What's that in the sky?


here are not many reasons why getting up at 3:45 am in order to leave the commuter parking lot at 4:45 am is a great idea. In fact, perhaps only two:

  1. We leave early enough to beat some of the traffic
  2. We get to come back home at a reasonable time in the evening

But I think this morning gave me a new reason.

We were driving along at about 5:15 am and our driver asked me if I saw the luminous could shapes in the sky. I bent down for a better view out of the windshield and, sure enough, there were two large "Z" shapes glowing brightly in the night sky. After a while we noticed another long, wispy luminous shape a bit further east. It was an impressive and beautiful display, although somewhat frightening at first.

We speculated on what it could be. We considered the aurora borealis (Northern Lights), although it’s highly unlikely that the Northern Lights would ever be spotted from Virginia. The more fearful among our van riders wondered if it might be military in nature and even a potential attack.

Finally I pulled out my iPhone and went to Space where I found an article NASA’s ATREX mission for conducting experiments on space weather. The article said that on March 27th, between midnight and 6:00 am NASA was firing off 5 rockets that would leave plumes in the upper atmosphere, just shy of space. These plumes would then be watched to track the movement of space weather. Cool stuff.

So... getting up at 3:45 am to see something this unusual and beautiful is actually kind of cool.

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