Sunday, February 21, 2010

NASA Rocket Destroys Sundog

Last week when folks in The Northeast Quadrant were buried under snow, NASA launched another new mission. The Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) lifted off from Cape Canaveral on a five-year mission to study the sun. SDO will beam back IMAX-quality images of solar explosions and peer beneath the stellar surface to see the sun's magnetic dynamo in action.

Shortly after launch, SDO's Atlas V rocket flew past a sundog hanging suspended in the blue Florida sky and with a rippling flurry of shock waves, destroyed it.

Sundogs are formed by plate-shaped ice crystals in high, cold cirrus clouds. As the crystals drift down from the sky like leaves fluttering from trees, aerodynamic forces tend to align their broad faces parallel to the ground. When sunlight hits a patch of well-aligned crystals at just the right distance from the sun a sundog can be seen.

When the rocket penetrated the cirrus, shock waves rippled through the cloud and destroyed the alignment of the crystals and the thus the sun dog too. The whole launch video is pretty cool, but for those of you who are impatient, the awesomeness occurs around 1:50 in the video.