Four rockets successfully launched at Poker Flat

Photo credit: Merrick PierceFAIRBANKS - Researchers at the Poker Flat Research Range sent four rockets into an aurora filled sky early this morning.

The four launches were successful and appear to have produced data that will help researchers understand turbulent air currents in the upper atmosphere, said Sue Mitchell a spokeswoman for the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute.

Mitchell was at the Steese Highway rocket range until about 2 a.m., she said.

"They were getting the data and everything seemed to be successful," she said.

Two teams collaborated to launch the four rockets. One team was led by Rich Collins from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, the other by Miguel Larsen at Clemson University. Larsen's rockets released a gas called trimethyl aluminum, which glows green when it reacts with oxygen. His team will use images of the gas dispersal to better understand turbulence.

Researchers have been in position to launch since Jan. 13, waiting each night for the clear weather they needed for their experiments. Monday's opening was just in time; their launch window closed Tuesday.

A fifth rocket did not launch Monday. That launch is a separate aurora research project operated by a Utah State team. The launch was delayed, someone ironically, because the aurora was too strong Monday morning, Mitchell said. The rocket is expected to measure the aurora above Kaktovik, on the North Slope, and the strongest aurora was farther south Monday morning. The Utah State rocket may launch later this week.

This article originated at the Fairbanks Daily Newsminer