UPDATED: “Cotton candy cloud” produced by sounding rocket from NASA Wallops

Beth Midgett snapped a photo of the huge pink cloud from the deck of her home in Hatteras village. She said friends from New Jersey down to Emerald Isle spotted the cloud. [courtesy @Mbethone/Twitter]

A three-stage suborbital sounding rocket was launched Wednesday around sunset for the Department of Defense from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on the Virginia Eastern Shore, and produced a cloud that looked like cotton candy in the southeastern sky.

The launch was designed to study ionization in space just beyond the reaches of Earth’s atmosphere.

After flying to an altitude of several hundred miles and about 500 miles off-shore, the rocket’s payload released a small quantity of vapor – an amount equivalent to about two BBQ grill propane tanks – into the near-vacuum of space.  There is no danger to public health or the Earth’s environment from the vapor release.

After the vapor release, NASA said the colorful clouds would be visible over the ocean to residents in the mid-Atlantic and southeastern United States as the Sun illuminates the vapor before it diffuses harmlessly into space.

Because it was a military launch, there was no notice of what time the rocket was being fired. So if you got to see the cloud, congrats!

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Kari Pugh is digital director for OBXToday.com, Beach 104, 99.1 The Sound, 94.5 WCMS and News Talk 92.3 WZPR. Reach her at kpugh@jammediallc.com