In the summer of 1962 (I was probably a gleam in my Dad’s eye, but my mom was still in high school!), the rocket’s red glare was from a hydrogen bomb, detonated 250 miles above the Pacific Ocean.
(in case the video doesn’t work: http://goo.gl/m87s [NPR])
In May of 1958, James Van Allen announced that he discovered “something new about the planet,” which was that the Earth was surrounded by belts of high-energy protons and electrons, maintained by a magnetic field. What we now call the Van Allen Belts. Shortly after the discovery, someone had the bright idea to blow them up! No kidding! One of the main goals of detonating a hydrogen bomb in space was to see if it would alter their shape.
In the video, the electrons from the blast change colors, first red, where the electrons collide with oxygen, then green and, finally, blue as the electrons collide with nitrogen in the lower atmosphere.
Happy Fourth of July! I hope your fireworks displays are just a lovely but a tad less deadly or dangerous!