September 20, 2009

Rocket Light Spooks Some On East Coast

A NASA rocket launched to study clouds spooked dozens of people along the U.S. East Coast, some worried about aliens landing, officials said.

Exhaust particles from the rocket launched Saturday night at Wallops Flight Center in Virginia illuminated the sky with a cone-shape light that could be seen as far north as Massachusetts, NASA spokesman Keith Koehler said.

CNN affiliate stations and NASA officials reported dozens of calls from people who saw the light, including some worried about extraterrestrial visitors, CNN reported Sunday.

The Black Brant XII Sounding Rocket was launched to study Earth's highest clouds, about 173 miles up in the atmosphere, Koehler said.

The rocket's exhaust particles formed an artificial noctilucent cloud. Natural noctilucent clouds, also called polar mesospheric clouds, form spectacular displays most easily seen just after sunset when illuminated by sunlight just below the horizon, NASA said.

The artificial cloud created by the rocket will provide data on the formation, evolution and properties of noctilucent clouds, Koehler said.