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Rockets glow against Alaska aurora in brilliant NASA image

The Northern Lights in Alaska provide a ghostly backdrop for a dramatic image of rockets launching into the early-morning sky.

Rockets take off from Poker Flat in Alaska. NASA/Jamie Adkins

When you think of NASA launches, you probably think of Florida and shuttle missions and massive rockets blasting into the sky. But NASA is busy launching all sorts of smaller projects that don't attract as much of the space glory. On January 26, the space agency sent four suborbital sounding rockets up into the sky from the Poker Flat Research Range in Alaska.

A time-lapse composite image shows all four rocket launches as bright trails leading up into misty green aurora-filled skies. The otherworldy image shows stars streaking in a circular pattern, a green Lidar streak and frost-covered ground and foliage.

The launches were part of the Mesosphere-Lower Thermosphere Turbulence Experiment (M-TeX) and the Mesospheric Inversion-layer Stratified Turbulence (MIST) experiment. The rockets were designed to leave vapor trails that could be observed and tracked from the ground. NASA created the experiments to "investigate and enhance our understanding of how meteorological processes control the impact of solar processes on the Earth's atmosphere." Researchers hope to gain insights into the movement of air and changing temperatures in the atmosphere.

It's par for the course for NASA's scientific endeavors to also generate images that captivate and amaze space fans and the general public alike. The Hubble Space Telescope alone has been responsible for countless stunning views out into the wider universe. The rocket image from Alaska brings NASA's work a little closer to home, but it's just as stunning as a glimpse into a far away nebula or galaxy.