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NASA rocket launch sends colorful clouds above the Atlantic coast

If you happened to look up into the pre-dawn sky along the Mid-Atlantic coast at around 4:30 Thursday morning, you may have caught a glimpse of some surprisingly colorful clouds.

NASA successfully sent a sounding rocket into space on a mission to produce rainbow-colored clouds that were visible all the way from New York to North Carolina.

Launched from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, the rocket flew to a height of 118 miles, NASA shared in a statement. During the eight-minute flight, it ejected ten small canisters about the size of soda cans.

Those canisters then deployed turquoise and red vapor into the upper atmosphere, forming artificial clouds in vivid colors visible from the ground for hundreds of miles.

Photographer Chris Bakley captured this stunning image from Stone Harbor, New Jersey:

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NASA's artificial clouds lit up the skies, as seen in this photo from Stone Harbor, New Jersey.

Chris Bakley

Research on luminescent clouds like these allow scientists on the ground to better track particle motions in space across vast areas.

The rocket launch is part of a deeper study of the ionosphere, a zone of the Earth's outer atmosphere, and aurora -- the Northern and Southern Lights.

In the wake of the launch, NASA is collecting photos taken of the clouds on Facebook.

It also posted a brief time-lapse video showing the colorful clouds appear in the sky:

Terrier-Improved Malemute Launch: Vapor deployment test by NASAWallops on YouTube

The rocket launch was delayed multiple times due to weather concerns before it finally happened Thursday.

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    Shanika Gunaratna covers science and technology for CBSNews.com