NOCTILUCENT ROCKET FUMES OVER JAPAN
On Jan. 18th, the Japanese space agency JAXA launched a small Epsilon rocket from the Uchinoura Space Center in Japan. It made a big display. Japanese artist and photographer Kagaya captured dramatic images of the rocket's exhaust glowing in the starry pre-dawn sky over the Pacific.
"I watched the launch from Okinawa Island and photographed it using my Sony α7RIII camera," says Kagaya.
Japan's new Epsilon rocket is designed to launch scientific satellites at a fraction of the cost of its larger predecessors. On this occasion, it propelled an Earth-observing satellite to orbit, the ASNARO-2. Power by solar cells and carrying a large X-band antenna, ASNARO-2 is a synthetic aperture radar capable of imaging the surface of our planet with 1-meter resolution.
Shortly after the launch, night-shining noctilucent clouds (NLCs) were observed over a wide swath of western Japan as ice crystals forming in the rocket's exhaust caught the rays of the rising sun high above Earth's surface. These clouds occur naturally around Earth's poles, but they are very rare at lower latitudes. In polar regions, NLCs are seeded at the edge of space by specks of meteor dust, which become frosted by naturally occurring water vapor. Exhaust from the Epsilon rocket mixed water vapor with solid-booster aerosols to create similar clouds over Japan.