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If you happened to be gazing up at the crystal-clear northern Norwegian sky this past Friday night, you might have been alarmed at the surreal set of odd shimmering lights appearing overhead.
Was it the first signs of an imminent alien invasion? Some new type of extraterrestrial superweapon meant to vaporize all mankind? Or perhaps some biblical prophecy straight from the Book of Revelations coming to announce Armageddon? Not exactly.
While residents and tourists invoking wild speculations and vivid imaginations might have caused quite a stir, cooler heads prevailed when it was revealed to be the result of a pair of NASA test rockets probing the magnetic mysteries of our upper atmosphere with chemical compounds, following a majestic aurora episode.
The Auroral Zone Upwelling Rocket Experiment (AZURE) mission was conducted on April 5 from the Andøya Space Center in Norway, with the initial Black Brant XI sounding rocket launching at 6:14 p.m. EDT, and ascending to an altitude of 200 miles. It was followed by the immediate launch of a second Black Brant XI at 6:16 p.m. EDT, soaring to a final altitude of 202 miles.
Check out this trippy time-lapse video from photographer Michael Theusner:
The alluring light show was produced via chemical compounds expelled by the AZURE rockets, the first of eight experimental missions to launch from Norwegian bases in Andøya and Svalbard to target the electrically charged atmospheric layer known as the ionosphere. Those colorful undulating sheets of the aurora borealis are the heavenly product of collisions between Earth’s atmosphere and particles from the Sun. NASA's missions will track and analyze the clashing interactions of our planet's magnetic field lines and dynamic particles from space that constantly bombard our planet.
The ionizing tracers (trimethylaluminum and a barium-strontium mixture) were released at altitudes of approximately 71 to 155 miles above Earth's surface and posed no immediate hazard to area residents, per NASA. These lofty detectives should assist the American space agency in measuring the violent vertical winds that blend electrically charged particles and energy through the atmosphere, thereby discovering the winds' density and temperature.
While not as thrilling as a full-scale alien armada in attack mode, they did provide an eerie light show to kick off the Norwegian weekend in style.