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Photos: Rockets, science and northern lights in Alaska

A NASA rocket launched from the Poker Flats Research Range on Feb. 6, 2013, as viewed from near Cleary Summit.
Merrick Peirce photo
A NASA rocket launched from the Poker Flats Research Range on Feb. 6, 2013.
NASA photo
A NASA rocket launched from the Poker Flats Research Range on Feb. 6, 2013.
NASA photo
Aurora over the Poker Flats Research Range on the night of Feb. 6, 2013.
NASA photo
On the night of Feb. 4, 2013, NASA Goddard scientists watched a lighted wind-weighting balloon launch to measure the winds and see if conditions were acceptable for a sounding rocket launch in Poker Flats, Alaska. Wind-weighting balloons help the launch team correct the rocket trajectory to make up for low level winds.
NASA/Goddard/Chris Perry
On the night of Feb. 2, 2013, a team of NASA scientists waited in Poker Flats, Alaska to see if conditions were right to launch the VISIONS sounding rocket mission (VISualizing Ion Outflow via Neutral atom imaging during a Substorm). The mission studies what makes the aurora, and how it affects Earth’s atmosphere.
NASA/Goddard/Chris Perry
Swirls of green and red appear in an aurora over Whitehorse, Yukon on the night of Sep. 3, 2012.
Courtesy David Cartier, Sr.
An all-sky image during the rocket launch taken by an automated camera near the entrance gate of the Poker Flat Research Range.
Donald Hampton/UAF via Cornell Chronicle
A NASA-funded collaborative research team launched a rocket Feb. 18 from Alaska's Poker Flat Research Range to collect data from the heart of the aurora some 202 miles above Earth.
Mark Conde, University of Alaska Fairbanks
A NASA-funded collaborative research team launched a rocket Feb. 18 from Alaska's Poker Flat Research Range to collect data from the heart of the aurora some 202 miles above Earth.
Terry Zaperach, NASA
The first stage of the rocket falls back down to Earth, while the second stage and payload continue upward through and above the aurora.
Craig Heinselman/SRI International
The northern lights dance over the Poker Flat Research Range in Alaska.
Terry Zaperach, NASA
A NASA-funded collaborative research team launched a rocket Feb. 18 from Alaska's Poker Flat Research Range to collect data from the heart of the aurora some 202 miles above Earth.
Mark Conde, University of Alaska Fairbanks
The northern lights on Feb. 18, 2012, during a rocket launch at Poker Flat in Interior Alaska.
Terry Zaperach, NASA photo
The northern lights on Feb. 18, 2012, during a rocket launch at Poker Flat in Interior Alaska.
Terry Zaperach, NASA photo
Craig Medred

At 11:16 p.m. Feb. 6, 2013, a rocket blasted into the atmosphere with a loud roar from Poker Flat Research Range in Alaska to study the northern lights -- the second such rocket mission in about a year.

The exact science of what the rocket will study is complicated, said Amy Hartley, spokeswoman for UAF’s Geophysical Institute. She described the rocket’s intended field of study as “some very advanced space physics.”

Some of what the data collected from the rocket will pertain to the ways in which the aurora heats oxygen that escapes into the Earth’s upper atmosphere, said Doug Rowland, lead investigator for the NASA program “VISualizing Ion Outflow via Neutral atom imaging during a Substorm” (VISIONS).

“Generally, the atmosphere does get hotter when the aurora comes in,” Rowland said. “Then there are smaller portions that get very, very hot.”

“Even though people have been studying the aurora for years, it’s still a mystery,” Hartley said. “There are still a lot of mysteries to be solved.”

READ MORE: Auroral research rocket blasts into space from Alaska range