NASA rocket launch to the moon visible to East Coast tonight

The launch of LADEE, NASA's new lunar exploration mission, will take place at 11:27 p.m. ET from the agency's new Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer will orbit the Moon to gather information on its atmosphere and surface conditions. It launches from Wallops Island, Va., at 11:27 p.m. ET. NASA

If the typical bevy of Friday night activities seems just too boring to bear, try out a rocket launch instead.

At roughly 11:27 p.m. ET, NASA will launch its Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) onboard an Orbital-made Minotaur V rocket. The launch is the first to take place at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va., and will be visible to a wide array of East Coast onlookers lucky enough to catch a patch of clear sky.

For those not on the East Coast -- or anyone looking for a front row ticket to the rocket launch itself -- NASA TV will broadcast the event live starting at 9:30 p.m. ET.

The goal of the $280 million mission, pronounced "laddie," is to investigate unknowns surrounding the moon's atmosphere that were brought up by NASA's Surveyor 7 mission in 1968. Back then, unexplainable "streamers" of light were noticed on the horizon of the Earth's natural satellite before sunrise.

Scientists posit that the mysterious moondust is tied to the moon's atmosphere and its interactions with the surface environment, but they've been unable to study the phenomenon thoroughly in the nearly 50 years since the Surveyor 7 mission.

The moon's boundary surface exosphere, as it's called, has been left relatively undisturbed thanks to a low number of probe landings of late. That portion of atmosphere -- which the Earth has, but which is out of reach beyond the orbit of the International Space Station -- also happens to be the most common type of atmosphere in our solar system, explains's Miriam Kramer. It exists around Mercury, as well as other large moons and asteroids. That makes Earth's moon ripe for types of data collection that could open up new understandings into other planetary bodies and their atmospheres.

The LADEE launch marks Virginia-based Orbital's first rocket launch carrying a payload destined for a spot beyond a low-Earth orbit. The company has produced a series of guidelines for viewing, including the map below.

Also check out its annotated series of Google Earth screenshots outlining the path of the rocket and its potential visibility at different points on the East Coast in and around Virginia and Washington, DC.


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