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If the skies are clear enough, the sounding rocket carrying the experiment will launch from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. In that case, many people on the US East Coast — as far north as New York City — may see brightly colored puffs of "tracer vapors" more than 90 miles above Earth. The psychedelic space clouds should appear low on the southern horizon about 5 minutes after the rocket launch.
The experiment is one of many missions in an international "Grand Challenge" initiative aimed at helping scientists probe two gaping holes in Earth's protective magnetic shield, called cusps.
The two holes in our invisible shield leak nearly 100 tons of air per day, according to Astronomy Now. The magnetic bubble that surrounds our planet is vital to life, since it deflects the sun's constant wind of high-energy particles — and protects against the occasional solar storm. Without this invisible force field, Earth may have gone the way of Mars, which lost its magnetic dynamo billions of years ago. That allowed the sun to blow most of the Martian atmosphere into deep space, turning a once wet and potentially habitable world into a dry and nearly airless global desert.
We won't run out of air anytime soon (thankfully, our planet has quadrillions of tons left), but scientists are still struggling to understand how the cusps work. In particular, they want to make them visible — which is where the colored clouds come into play.
If the launch does happen (though we don't necessarily recommend getting your hopes up), you can watch NASA Wallops' live video stream in the player below starting around 8:30 p.m. EDT.
Update: Due to poor weather conditions, NASA delayed the launch to Sunday, June 18, between 9:05 and 9:20 p.m. EDT.
Four to five minutes after launch, the sounding rocket is expected to deploy 10 canisters about the size of soft drink cans, each containing a colored vapor that forms artificial, luminescent clouds.
The whole mission will last about eight minutes before the payload lands in the Atlantic Ocean, about 90 miles (145 kilometers) out to sea from its launch point in Virginia. "The vapor tracers could be visible from New York to North Carolina and westward to Charlottesville, Virginia," NASA said.