Thursday, January 29, 2009

ACES launch!

Yesterday I decided to stay out at Poker Flat with the ACES science team. This is another rocket team that was nearing the end of their launch window. They are working nights, so I hadn't really been a part of any of that action, but I had been meaning to stick around and check it out. The only problem was that they work until 3am, and we start work at 8am, so that wouldn't be great for sleeping. I managed to sleep 10 hours on tuesday night in preparation though. Plus they have couches in the science center glass room for taking naps viewing the aurora.

Here is a view of the glass room that I took a few days ago.

So anyhow, I am hanging out, trying to not get in the way of the ACES team too much. For practically the first time in 14 days there were clear skies, no high winds, and some aurora. Each of these things had continued to prevent a launch. I have also been checking out weather forecasts and space weather predictions quite regularly while I have been here, so I was getting the idea that wednesday night would be the last chance for this team to launch.

All night there was visible aurora. For the most part it was a stable arc very far north of us, beyond where the ACES rockets could reach. So we were just waiting and waiting for the arc to move far enough south to be able to give the team good science. Sometimes the auroral arc would gradually move south and then we would see a small substorm breakup and the arc would move north again. Here is a photo that was taken a few nights earlier, but shows the type of aurora I am talking about.

This photo, along with all other aurora photos in here are from Craig Heinselman, who is a space physics genius.

The following are photos of the aurora from last night that the ACES rockets were launched into.

This was seriously the most beautiful and dynamic aurora I have ever seen.

ACES consisted of two rockets, a high-flier and a low-flier. I think the high flier went to maybe 400km and the low flier to 150km or so. I am mostly making those numbers up, but I think they are fairly accurate. This would put one rocket above the aurora and one below it, which is pretty cool. Here are long exposure photos of each of the rockets.

On each of these photos you can see a red line near the rocket trajectory line. That is the red light that is on the weather balloon they launch at around t-10 minutes in order to make sure the winds are fine for launch.

My favorite part was when the second rocket flew through the smoke from the motors of the first rocket and you could see the smoke completely clear out.

Also, if you want to check out more of Craig's photos here is his rocket album.


  1. Wowzie Wowzie!
    Very neat photos and description on the rocket launch and the sledding hill excitement. I spent last weekend sledding near Antigo, Wis and we saw a massive 'falling star' around 11 p.m. on January 31. I actually screamed when I saw it. Thought aliens might be coming through the woods. They did not. Best 'shooting star' I've ever seen though. You could see chunks burning off and shooting to the sides... Still, my personal aurora drought has now reached at least a year and a half.

  2. Whoops, Last post was from Adam Mella. Not a genius of physics or comment-posting, either.