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NASA Rocket Launch Will Create Blue-Green and Red Clouds on Sunday

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Mark your calendars for June 11, East Coast skywatchers: We may be in for a lovely show Sunday night, as NASA launches a sounding rocket and brightly colored vapor clouds into the night.

The (dog-inspired?) Terrier-Improved Malemute rocket is an information-gathering craft laden with instruments to capture information about our atmosphere and ionosphere. Its path will follow a sharp U-shaped trajectory, launching from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Virginia, soaring miles into the sky, peaking, then falling back to Earth and plunging into the Atlantic Ocean.

The launch is scheduled to occur between 9:04 and 9:19 p.m. EDT. Experts estimate that the flight will take about eight minutes from start to finish. Approximately four or five minutes after the rocket takes off, NASA will deploy 10 soda can–sized canisters full of reactive chemicals. The cans will burst 96 to 124 miles in the air, producing enormous, vibrant blooms of harmless red and blue-green clouds formed by the interaction of barium, strontium, and cupric-oxide. (These are commonly found in fireworks.) If the weather cooperates, these vapor tracers should be visible from New York to North Carolina and westward into Virginia.

Map predicting visibility of vapor tracers during a NASA rocket launch.
NASA

Scientists will track the movement and dissipation of the clouds to understand how particles and air are flowing through the sky above us. Deploying the vapor tracers at a distance from the rocket should help provide an even fuller picture of just what’s going on up there.

We’re using words like should and might because Sunday’s launch is far from a sure thing. It’s already been canceled and rescheduled four times—three times for overcast skies, and once due to the presence of some boats in the launch hazard area.

Those in Virginia or nearby (it's near the Delaware border) can head to the Wallops Visitor Center at 8:00 p.m. on Sunday to watch the launch up close.

The rest of us can catch it via Ustream or on the project’s Facebook and Twitter pages.

For launch and project updates, check out the Wallops website or download the adorably corny What’s Up at Wallops app, available through Google Play and iTunes.

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Tracing Vladimir Nabokov's 1941 Cross-Country Road Trip, One Butterfly at a Time
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Vladimir Nabokov is most famous as a writer, but the Russian scribe was also an amateur—yet surprisingly accomplished—lepidopterist. Nabokov first began collecting butterflies as a child, and after moving to the U.S. in 1940 he began volunteering in the Lepidoptera collections at the American Museum of Natural History.

The following year, the author took a cross-country road trip, driving 4000 miles from Pennsylvania to California. Along the way, he stopped at kitschy roadside motels, which provided atmospheric fodder for his 1955 novel Lolita. Nabokov also collected hundreds of butterfly samples at these rest stops, most of which he ended up donating to the AMNH.

Nabokov would go on to publish multiple scientific papers on lepidoptery—including the definitive scholarly study of the genus Lycaeides, or the “blues”—and produce perhaps thousands of delicate butterfly drawings. Multiple butterfly species were also named after him, including Nabokov’s wood nymph.

In the AMNH’s 360-degree video below, you can trace the author's 1941 cross-country road trip state-by-state, see some of the specimens he collected, and learn how museum curators are using his westward journey to better understand things like species distribution and migration patterns.

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Trying to Save Money? Avoid Shopping on a Smartphone
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Today, Americans do most of their shopping online—but as anyone who’s indulged in late-night retail therapy likely knows, this convenience often can come with an added cost. Trying to curb expenses, but don't want to swear off the convenience of ordering groceries in your PJs? New research shows that shopping on a desktop computer instead of a mobile phone may help you avoid making foolish purchases, according to Co. Design.

Ying Zhu, a marketing professor at the University of British Columbia-Okanagan, recently led a study to measure how touchscreen technology affects consumer behavior. Published in the Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, her research found that people are more likely to make more frivolous, impulsive purchases if they’re shopping on their phones than if they’re facing a computer monitor.

Zhu, along with study co-author Jeffrey Meyer of Bowling Green State University, ran a series of lab experiments on student participants to observe how different electronic devices affected shoppers’ thinking styles and intentions. Their aim was to see if subjects' purchasing goals changed when it came to buying frivolous things, like chocolate or massages, or more practical things, like food or office supplies.

In one experiment, participants were randomly assigned to use a desktop or a touchscreen. Then, they were presented with an offer to purchase either a frivolous item (a $50 restaurant certificate for $30) or a useful one (a $50 grocery certificate for $30). These subjects used a three-point scale to gauge how likely they were to purchase the offer, and they also evaluated how practical or frivolous each item was. (Participants rated the restaurant certificate to be more indulgent than the grocery certificate.)

Sure enough, the researchers found that participants had "significantly higher" purchase intentions for hedonic (i.e. pleasurable) products when buying on touchscreens than on desktops, according to the study. On the flip side, participants had significantly higher purchase intentions for utilitarian (i.e. practical) products while using desktops instead of touchscreens.

"The playful and fun nature of the touchscreen enhances consumers' favor of hedonic products; while the logical and functional nature of a desktop endorses the consumers' preference for utilitarian products," Zhu explains in a press release.

The study also found that participants using touchscreen technology scored significantly higher on "experiential thinking" than subjects using desktop computers, whereas those with desktop computers demonstrated higher scores for rational thinking.

“When you’re in an experiential thinking mode, [you crave] excitement, a different experience,” Zhu explained to Co. Design. “When you’re on the desktop, with all the work emails, that interface puts you into a rational thinking style. While you’re in a rational thinking style, when you assess a product, you’ll look for something with functionality and specific uses.”

Zhu’s advice for consumers looking to conserve cash? Stow away the smartphone when you’re itching to splurge on a guilty pleasure.

[h/t Fast Company]

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