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Hey, Eastern Seaboard! Look Up, You’re About to See a Rocket Launch

A new orbiter is going to the Moon, and it's launching from Virginia

The potential viewing area for tonight’s 11:27 pm launch from Virginia. Photo: NASA Wallops Flight Facility

If you live in the mid-Atlantic U.S., somewhere from Maine to South Carolina—even if you’re as far inland as western Pennsylvania—look east tonight just before 11:30, and you’ll be in for a treat. A rocket heading for the Moon is blasting off from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The area where the launch will be visible is pretty huge (though the rocket may be quite tiny if you’re far away), but if you can’t see it from where you live, you can watch the launch live online.

NASA will be launching a five-stage rocket known as the Minotaur VThis isn’t the first launch from Wallops, but, says the Planetary Society, it is the first launch of this kind of rocket. It’s also one of the largest launches from Wallops, and it’s the first one going to the Moon. The Associated Press:

All but one of NASA’s approximately 40 moon missions — most memorably the manned Apollo flights of the late 1960s and early 1970s — originated from Cape Canaveral. The most recent were the twin Grail spacecraft launched two years ago this weekend. The lone exception, Clementine, a military-NASA venture, rocketed away from Southern California in 1994.

The rocket will be carrying a new lunar probe, known as LADEE. The orbiter will circle the Moon, studying the (extremely thin) lunar atmosphere. The AP:

Sometimes, people are a little taken aback when we start talking about the lunar atmosphere because, right, we were told in school that the moon doesn’t have an atmosphere,” said Sarah Noble, NASA program scientist.

“It does. It’s just really, really thin.”

The atmosphere is so thin and delicate, in fact, that spacecraft landings can disturb it. So now is the time to go, Noble said, before other countries and even private companies start bombarding the moon and fouling up the atmosphere.

In case you’re not sure what to look for, here’s what an April launch from Wallops looked like. Just make sure to scale the size of the rocket with how many miles you are away from Virginia.

More from Smithsonian.com:

The Northeastern United States Gets To See a Rocket Launch Today

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About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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