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What the Antares rocket explosion looked like on weather radar

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

The explosion of Orbital Sciences’ Antares rocket at the Wallops Island launch facility last night was something to see—even if you’re seeing with radio waves. These animations, provided by Baron Weather, show how debris and smoke from the accident were visible at a weather station in Dover, Delaware,  over 100 miles away.

Baron Weather

After the initial explosion, then the south-westerly winds carry the smoke and debris out into the Atlantic ocean. “You see that sometimes with tornados and squall line events and severe weather events that push through and cause a lot of damage,” Stephen McCloud, a weather operations manager at Baron, says. “The radar sees it and detects it as debris.”

The next animations uses more advanced radar analysis to try identify the different kinds of debris scattered by the rocket accident. This kind of radar can differentiate between rain, snow and hail, for example.

Baron Weather

Investigators will use these images to help collect the remnants of the rocket and determine the cause of the explosion. And they’re also a reminder of why NASA was willing to scrub a previous launch attempt when a sailboat ventured into the hazard area of the coast of the launch site. Had it been there when the rocket exploded, it could have been caught in the wave of debris shown above.

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