ORLANDO, Fla- – Clouds obstructed the view for many Sunday morning during the SpaceX in-flight abort test. The radar, however, saw everything.
Doppler radar scans our skies looking for anything. Meteorologists obviously use it to detect rain, storms and other hazards, but the radar picks up non-meteorological targets from to time as well. Sunday morning was one of those times. Radar works by sending out a beam as it scans the sky. Once the beam returns to the radar it is measured and can be read.
That blob of yellow and green right off of Cape Canaveral is the explosion that occurred shortly after the in-flight abort system was triggered. The Dragon capsule flew safely away, while the Falcon 9 rocket exploded.
There were a few showers around Brevard county that may look similar to that blob. Relatively new radar technology, however, confirms that the radar was in fact “seeing” a non-meteorological target. In this case the explosion.
Correlation Coefficient is a mode on the radar where it measures how similarly the objects are horizontally and vertically. A batch of rain drops for example would be highly correlated because they are all about the same and therefore would show up as bright purple on the radar screen.
When the radar sees lowly correlated objects, hail, birds, insects or debris, it has lower values and shows up gray on the radar screen. In this case, the gray and blue color in the radar screenshot above is the explosion of the Falcon 9 rocket!
Meteorologists use this technology to determine if there is hail in a thunderstorm or a tornado on the ground. Pretty cool!