Locutus76 wrote:So can anyone describe all the phenomena we see in this picture? What is the curved line at the top? Is that LIDAR? Then what are the small upwards pointing lines at the bottom, near the bushes?
And what about the small streaks at the image center, just above the rocket arcs? And what are the bright bluish flashes?
The curved (green) line is not really curved. It is a very straight laser "beam" (actually here the backscattered light from a laser). It appears curved because a very wide angle lens is being used and it is close to the camera (distortion). Because it is close to the launch site, I'm guessing maybe it is used to help aim the rockets.
The small streaks in the image center are the light from the second stage rocket motors. A bit confusing, but here's what we seem to be looking at: The first stage ("Terrier") motors fire for only 5.2 seconds or so, but produce extremely high accelerations (something like 30g). Where the bright streaks become dimmer is the end of burn, but the motor is still glowing enough to be seen. A little above this is a slight brightening that I am guessing is from explosives that separate the burnt out first stage from the second stage a second or two later. After this the first stage continues to coast upward and is still visible, but the path becomes more sharply curved because it is slowing significantly relative to the second stage. The second stage is more streamlined and coasts upward (invisibly) on a straighter line. At ten seconds into the flight the second stage motor fires, and burns for a further 15 seconds or so. The rockets are many kilometers away at this point, so lines appear short.
There are two different experiments here and two different types of second stage. It looks to me like the two right hand ones--one of which looks like it might be misbehaving a little bit--are the less powerful Terrier/Improved Orions of the MIST experiment. These are supposed to each drop a "bomb" of reflected material once on their way up and once on their way down. I guess the two bluish explosions (and the in the center are the "on the way up" and the bigger birdlike blob to the right is one or both of the "on the way down" ones.
The two left hand rockets presumably are the higher flying Malamutes (which also have a Terrier first stage). It doesn't look like any of the second stages are visible after burnout--momentum carries the rockets much, much higher--to several hundred kilometers altitude. The dashed lines cutting near the celestial pole look like they created by the residual light of the "bombs" that created the dust clouds that are being studied here.
This site has a video and stills that may help visualize the flight paths: