11/2/2010 - VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. — Vandenberg is scheduled to launch a Delta II rocket carrying the Thales Alenia Space-Italia COSMO-SkyMed Satellite today at 7:20 p.m. from Space Launch Complex-2 on North Vandenberg.
An exhaust cloud billowed around Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida as space shuttle Discovery lifted off to begin the STS-131 mission. The seven-member crew will deliver the multi-purpose logistics module Leonardo, filled with supplies, a new crew sleeping quarters and science racks that will be transferred to the International Space Station’s laboratories. The crew also will switch out a gyroscope on the station’s truss, install a spare ammonia storage tank and retrieve a Japanese experiment from the station’s exterior.
At Launch Complex 37, the United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket set to carry the NASA/NOAA GOES P spacecraft sits poised on the launch pad. Liftoff is set for 6:17 p.m. EST. with a one-hour launch window that extends to 7:17 p.m.
Explanation: What created those rocket waves, and why did they destroy that sun dog? Close inspection of the above image shows not only a rocket rising near the center, but unusual air ripples around it and a colorful sundog to the far right. The rocket, carrying the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), lifted off two weeks ago from Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA into a cold blue sky. The SDO is designed to observe the Sun continuously over the next several years, exploring the Sun’s atmosphere at high resolution and fast time scales. The air ripples — seen about one minute after launch — were unexpected, as was the sudden disappearance of the sundog after the ripples passed. Noticed and recorded by several onlookers, there has been much speculation about the origin of the ripples. An ongoing discussion about them can be joined here in APOD’s discussion board the Asterisk. A leading hypothesis holds that the ripples resulted from a sonic boom created as the rocket broke the sound barrier, which then jumbled a thin layer of ice crystals that were aligned to create the sundog. Lingering questions include why other rocket launches don’t produce air ripples as noticeable, and why the ripples appeared more prominent above the rocket. If you know of images of any other aircraft or spacecraft that have produced similar air ripples, please post them to the discussion thread — they may be help create a better understanding of the effect.