This is not a NASA Website. You might learn something. It's YOUR space agency. Get involved. Take it back. Make it work - for YOU.
Space & Planetary Science

Artificial Cloud in Space

By Keith Cowing
September 20, 2009

NASA rocket sparks reports of strange lights in sky, Newsday
“Staff at several National Weather Service offices in the Northeast received calls of strange lights after NASA launched a rocket from Virginia, a meteorologist with the weather service in Upton said. And along the East Coast, reports of the bright, cone-shaped light poured into weather stations and news organizations, a Boston TV station said on its Web site.”
NASA launches rocket, dozens report strange lights, AP
“The space agency said it launched the Black Brant XII on Saturday evening to gather data on the highest clouds in the Earth’s atmosphere. About the time of the launch, dozens of people in the Northeast started calling local television stations to report seeing strange lights. The calls came from as far away as Boston, which is about 380 miles northeast of the launch site.”
Strange light spotted in New England sky, WHDH-TV
“Many viewers called in to 7News Saturday night with reports about an unidentified “light” in the sky. Reports of a “flashing light” came in from Massachusetts and New Hampshire.”
Rocket launch prompts calls of strange lights in sky, CNN
“A series of spooky lights above parts of the northeastern United States Saturday sparked a flurry of phone calls to authorities and television news stations. NASA said strange lights seen in the Northeast on Saturday were caused by an experimental rocket. CNN affiliate stations from New Jersey to Massachusetts heard from dozens of callers who reported that the lights appeared as a cone shape shining down from the sky.”
Earlier post: @NASA_Wallops Black Brant XII rocket launch on schedule between 7:32 and 7:49 p.m., Sat, Sep 19. Web cast begins at 6:30 p.m.
Keith’s note: The most recent media advisory I got from Wallops says that the launch will be 15 September. Well, it was yesterday, 19 September. Unless you were glued to Twitter last night (I just happened to be), you would not have known it was yesterday. How hard would it have been to send out a revised media advisory when it was clear that the new date would not be 15 Sep. but instead would be 18 Sep.? Drudge report has a link to an AP story about people seeing lights up and down the east coast (I did not see anything in Reston, BTW). Other articles talk about calls to police, TV stations, the National Weather Service,etc. Wow. A light show in space that millions could see. And yet apparently no one knew much – if anything – ahead of time.
But wait, they did – the original press release was the subject of stories about a launch on the 15th. Anyone who went outside looking that night saw that nothing happened. Did Wallops PAO try and get revised releases out? I certainly did not get one. The logical assumption must have been that if NASA announced the launch and it did not happen that there’d be another announcement before they tried again. Or did it launch but was simply not visible?
The original release talked of a 16-20 Sep. back up dates – but when it did not happen on the 15th, did NASA send out an advisory saying when it would try again? No. Everyone was left hanging. Yet curiously Wallops PAO thought it was worth revising an earlier release on 14 Sep. to correct technical details as to what stage fires at which altitude. So .. revised press releases are possible for Wallops PAO to generate.
Imagine if TV stations and radio stations in the viewing area were specifically targeted and alerted and told that they’d get a heads up when the launch was minutes away such that they could tell people to go outside and where to look. It was a Saturday night so it was not a school night and many people did not have to work the next day.
What a wonderful opportunity for NASA to ask for people to have their cameras ready so that they could send their photos in for posting at Flickr or – maybe Photosynth could have been used to create a large image of the three dimensional aspects of the cloud – something of potential scientific interest. It would have been like having a camera hundreds of miles across.
Wow. I just described “participatory exploration” …
In looking through the WFF website I found no attempt whatsoever to capitalize on this unique event. Indeed, the WFF website often seems to be designed to make it harder to find information than would normally be the case. All it says is “A NASA Black Brant XII was successfully launched from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility at 7:46 p.m. on Saturday, September 19.”
This press release webpage at Wallops is the best example of the “let them eat cake” approach to website design – it simply lists press release numbers. No titles. And you can’t even read the releases online – you can only downloaded them Word documents. Go figure.
And with all of the public and media interest in what the lights in the sky were, is there any mention at all of this event at the home page? No.
I know they are short handed at Wallops PAO. But this was a chance for MILLIONS of people to share in what NASA does in an almost primal fashion – a beautiful apparition in the evening sky.

NASA Watch founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.