Sunday, February 21, 2010

Three Interesting Plume Phenomena

This video of a recent Atlas V launch well illustrates a few of the many interesting ways that the exhaust plume of a kerosene fueled rocket engine interacts with the atmosphere.

First, notice the contrail that begins to form at 1:41 (video time) and continues for about the next 10 seconds. This is a typical aircraft type "linear contrail" consisting of ice particles.

Second, notice that the classic rocket plume "flame" (the radiant plume) shrinks with altitude. By 2:30, with the rocket well into the upper stratosphere, the radiant plume has become small and a wide and faint white-bluish plume, likely soot particles from the RD-180 rocket engines, becomes prominent.

Third, this video shows the acoustic waves that propagate from the vehicle and modify the surrounding cirrus cloud particles. In this video you can also see the faint soot trail behind the Atlas V rocket.

These localized plume phenomenon hint at the cumulative and global impacts of rocket emissions.

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