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    July Fourth comes early: NASA sounding rocket releases colorful morning cloud show

    By Doris Elin Salazar
    June 30, 2017, 2:56:00 PM EDT

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    Wallops clouds

    After launch, the NASA sounding rocket released artificial clouds that scientists can use to track the movement of Earth's ionosphere. Credit: NASA Wallops/Twitter

    A NASA sounding rocket launched early this morning and lit up the skies over the U.S. East Coast with colorful clouds, ringing in an early July Fourth celebration.

    The launch of the Terrier-Improved Malemute two-stage sounding rocket had been repeatedly rescheduled, but the rocket finally got its chance at 4:25 a.m. EDT (0825 GMT) today (June 29). The rocket lifted off from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, and its flight lasted about 8 minutes.

    About 4 to 6 minutes into takeoff, 10 canisters released barium, strontium and cupric oxide, which interacted with each other to form colorful vapor. Scientists could use the red and blue-green artificial clouds that formed to track the movement of particles in Earth's ionosphere, which is in its upper atmosphere. They were visible along the mid-Atlantic coastline from North Carolina as far north as New York, and could be seen as far west as Charlottesville, Virginia, according to NASA. (NASA Wallops reported cloud views as far as Staten Island, NY and Outer Banks, NC.)

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