States across the eastern US could catch sight of a NASA Wallops rocket launch Friday

WALLOPS ISLAND, Va.— If local weather is on their side, most eastern states should be able to see a rocket Friday night. 

With a window scheduled for 7:58 p.m. Friday, the Black Brant XII rocket will be thundering overhead.

Black Brant XII, carrying the KiNET-X payload, is a four-stage sounding rocket that can reach altitudes over 200 miles above Earth’s surface, according to NASA Wallops Flight Facility. 

NASA Wallops Visitor Center will not be open for viewing. 

This mission — don’t let me lose you at the names — called KiNETic-scale energy and momentum transport eXperiment, or KiNET-X, is designed to study a very fundamental problem in space plasmas, NASA shared in a release. 

How are energy and momentum transported between different regions of space that are magnetically connected?

With a window currently scheduled for 7:58 p.m., May 7, 2021, the Black Brant XII rocket will launch from Virginia's NASA Wallops Flight Facility. Black Brant XII, carrying the KiNET-X payload, is a four-stage sounding rocket that can reach altitudes over 200 miles above Earth's surface. (Photo: Image courtesy of NASA)

Take auroras — a.k.a. the northern lights or polar lights, if you’ve heard of them that way. They are formed when particles in Earth’s “near-space environment” interact with the atmosphere.

“The electrons in Earth’s space environment and in the solar wind have relatively low energies, yet, the aurora is generated by very high energy electrons,” said Peter Delamere, KiNET-X principal investigator from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, in the release. 

“What is the energization mechanism?” 

Details of the scientific venture get more complicated, but overall, Delamere still calls his team’s experiment in Earth’s atmosphere relatively simple. 

Two vapor clouds emitted from the rocket’s payload will generate a magnetic field perturbation, and electrons are likely to be energized, according to NASA’s breakdown. 

KiNET-X consists of a single rocket launch carrying seven separable payloads — diagnostic instrumentation the main, alongside four small subpayloads, and barium vapor clouds set to release from two additional, larger subpayloads.

With a window currently scheduled for 7:58 p.m., May 7, the Black Brant XII rocket will launch from Virginia's NASA Wallops Flight Facility. Black Brant XII, carrying the KiNET-X payload, is a four-stage sounding rocket that can reach altitudes over 200 miles above Earth's surface — making it likely viewable from many states. (Photo: Image courtesy of NASA)

“… It is possible the KiNET-X payload will generate auroral emissions on a very small scale, but that is an unknown aspect of this experiment,” he said. “In-situ instruments will, however, measure the energized electrons directly.”

These possible clouds of color will be very unlikely seen by the naked eye at night. 

Is this electron talk getting over your head? Don’t worry, the rocket should be viewable at no-charge from the sky above. 

In case of a cloudy night or hopes for a steady view, NASA says live coverage of the mission will be available on the Wallops IBM video site by 7:30 p.m. on launch day.

Backup days run through May 16, as NASA Wallops keeps a close eye on weather conditions. 

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