Eerie lights fill the night sky above the Marshall Islands

Credit: John Grant/NASA

The day was just turning to night on May 7, when a number of oddly glowing phenomena appeared in the sky above the Marshall Islands. A large red cloud and an accompanying pair of blue and white trails colored the heavens. John Grant, a NASA photographer, was on hand to document the unique light show, and it is thanks to him that we have these images.

At first glance, the lights appearred to be the work of some sort of reality-defying force. A will-o-the-wisp or a time-traveling DeLorean, for example.

Of course, reality has yet to prove the existence of such things and so they're fairly unlikely candidates. In fact, what really populated the skies with these stunning lights was science. Atmospheric research, to be precise. The study began at 7:39 PM local time, when a pair of NASA-funded rockets took to the sky.

The white and blue trails are due to the release of trimethyl aluminum as the rockets streaked into the ionosphere. The red cloud hovering ominously above them? Lithium vapor. And it was all done so that scientists could study the winds and electrical activity in the upper reaches of the atmosphere.

NASA, via

(Image: John Grant/NASA)

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