Earlier this month, NASA conducted a study in Norway that resulted in out-of-this-world night sky photos and which had photographers in the area scratching their heads.
As part of its ongoing AZURE mission for studying auroras, NASA launched two rockets from the Andøya Space Center on April 5th. The rockets released vapors that formed colorful artificial clouds at between 71 and 150 miles above the Norwegian Sea. These clouds are monitored to measure auroral winds.
“The AZURE mission is designed to make measurements of the atmospheric density and temperature with instruments on the rockets and deploying visible gas tracers, trimethyl aluminum (TMA) and a barium/strontium mixture, which ionizes when exposed to sunlight,” NASA writes. “These mixtures, using substances similar to those found in fireworks, created colorful clouds that allow researchers to track the flow of neutral and charged particles with the auroral wind.”
People with a view of the clouds were treated to an unusual and beautiful show that night, but the sight was baffling to those who weren’t aware of the NASA study.
German astrophotographer Michael Theusner was traveling on the cruise ship MV Trollfjord in Norway’s Vestfjord and shooting time-lapse photos when the launch occurred.
“While we were watching the after-effects of a beautiful northern lights display, the rockets were launched from the Andøya Space Center only about 180 km away to the north,” Theusner writes. “We saw two orange dots rise into the sky and disappear. A short while later strange lights and colorful, expanding clouds appeared I first did not have an explanation for. It looked like an alien attack.”
Here’s the time-lapse video of the launch and clouds that Theusner happened to capture:
After doing an Internet search, Theusner soon learned that the “alien attack” was NASA’s aurora research.
Aurora photographer Chad Blakley of Lights Over Lapland managed to capture the clouds with a live camera, and he couldn’t believe his eyes either.
“I first spotted the lights on our Aurora Web Cam which continually captures the night sky above Abisko in Sweden, and couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” Blakley tells Forbes. “It was completely out of this world!”
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Check out these #amazing pictures captured by our webcam last night! What do you think caused these cool lights? • • • #nasa #space #aurora #auroraborealis #nature #science #sky #ufo #abisko #nationalpark #universetoday #universe #travel #instagood #nofilter #northernlights #discoverearth #earthofficial #swedishlapland
Photographer Jason A was at the Alomar Observatory in Norway as part of the AZURE mission, so he did know what he was seeing when he captured this beautiful 7-second time-lapse:
Just six months ago, SpaceX also dazzled night sky photographers when it lit up the sky over the West Coast of the United States with its Falcon 9 rocket. People who saw that launch flooded social media wondering if they were witnessing an alien invasion.
Image credits: Header photo by NASA/Lee Wingfield