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Blue-Green Ball Lights Southerly U.S. Skies In Test of Magnetic Field

February 17, 1991

DETROIT (AP) _ A ball of blue-green light was visible Saturday night in the southerly skies over the United States when a research satellite released chemical vapor to study the Earth’s magnetic field.

The canister of barium gas was released by the Combined Release and Radiation Effects satellite at 10:30 p.m. EST, 20,800 miles over northwestern Brazil, project spokesman Rick Howard said Saturday from his home in Fairfax, Va.

One of the research aircraft in the program is based near Marquette at K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base.

The barium particles attached to the Earth’s magnetic field, creating a blue-green flash that appeared to grow to about half the size of the moon, then turned purple, faded and spread out, Howard said.

The light was visible for about 40 minutes where skies were clear and there was no interfering ground light, Howard said.

The CRRES satellite, a joint NASA-Air Force project, was launched last July. It released barium and lithium vapors six times in January and once earlier this month.

Another seven canisters of barium will be released in July and August at low altitudes over the Caribbean but will only be visible in this country along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, Howard said.

The project is intended to provide information about the magnetosphere and more reliable predictions of magnetic disturbances in space, which can affect power transmission on Earth as well as satellite communications.

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