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."