A physics and astronomy professor from the University of Iowa is in Alaska to launch a rocket into the colorful and mysterious Northern Lights. The aurora borealis are luminous bands of bright beautiful light that shimmer across the evening sky.Professor Craig Kletzing is the principal investigator for the RACE project — Rocket Auroral Correlator Experiment. Kletzing says the measurements will help scientists understand the interactions between waves and particles in the aurora. The slender rocket is almost ready for launch from a site about 30 miles north of Fairbanks.The four-stage, solid fuel rocket is 17-inches in diameter and stands 66-feet tall. It’ll launch its payload of scientific instruments at about 550 miles up — and it’ll remain aloft only about 15 minutes. Kletzing says they’ll wait until the Northern Lights are particularly bright, then launch. He says the best window for liftoff will be between February 2nd and the 18th.He says this type of instrument will enable researchers to gather ten times the data they could glean from a satellite. While the views of the aurora borealis are spectacular, Kletzing says Alaska’s a frigid place to be right now, as the highs in Fairbanks are about 20-degrees below zero.
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