It looks like an aurora, but it’s not. Last night in Rhode Island, a green blob appeared just above the treeline of North Kingstown:
“It only lasted a few seconds,” says photographer Ronald Zincone, “but it was very bright green.”
What was that strange sky phenomenon over Rhode Island?
This is a cloud of barium vapors released by a Black Brant sounding rocket, launched at 8:44 pm EDT on May 16th from Wallops Island, Virginia.
Researchers from the University of Alaska are doing an experiment called KiNET-X.
Its purpose is to solve a longstanding mystery about auroras. Electrons in the solar wind are low energy; yet electrons that make auroras have high energy. How are they energized?
Barium vapors may help answer that question. High altitude sunlight rapidly ionizes the barium, which releases electrons into the upper atmosphere. Instruments on the sounding rocket watch what happens, and may learn how the electrons are energized.
Here is a sequence of images showing how the blob evolved. Note the faint violet streamer rising out of the fading green gas:
The streamer is a sign that the barium is being ionized, changing form from green (neutral) to violet (ionized). Ions and electrons in the newly ionized cloud begin to migrate along Earth’s magnetic field lines, forming an elongated structure parallel to the local magnetic field.
Back in 2019, a similar experiment created glowing blobs of blue and purple in the night sky over Norway. Here a reminder:
Yep! It’s kind of weird that we never get any information about these tests in our sky… Don’t you think?
Now subscribe to this blog to get more amazing news curated just for you right in your inbox on a daily basis (here an example of our new newsletter).
You should really subscribe to QFiles. You will get very interesting information about strange events around the world.