Suborbital rockets launched to study the upper level jet stream
NASA launched five suborbital rockets starting at 4:58 a.m. ET this morning from its Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia as part of a study of the upper level jet stream. Chemical tracers released as part of the experiment -- seen here -- created wispy clouds that will help scientists to better understand wind patterns in the suborbital layer some 60 to 65 miles above the Earth.
Using this wind-pattern data, NASA says it will be able to create better models of the electromagnetic fields in space that can damage satellites and disrupt communications systems.
The Anomalous Transport Rocket Experiment (ATREX) is a heliophysics sounding rocket mission. The first rocket was launched at 4:58 a.m. EDT and each subsequent rocket was launched 80 seconds apart. The launches and clouds could reportedly be seen as far south as Wilmington, N.C.; as far west as Charlestown, W. Va.; and as far north as Buffalo, N.Y.
Studying strong electrical currents in the ionosphere
The atmospheric layer under study lies 60 to 65 miles above the Earth -- a jet stream higher than the one commonly described in weather reports. The wind speeds here range from 200 mph to well over 300 mph, creating a rapid transport flow from the Earth's middle latitudes to the polar regions.
Strong electrical currents occur in the ionosphere here as well, and electrical turbulence in this region of the atmosphere can adversely affect satellite and radio communications on Earth.
From photographer Jack Fusco: "Taken from Seaside Park, NJ. It may have taken a few nights and a lot of lost sleep, but this was absolutely incredible. It was pretty unreal and very exciting to see. This wasn't the original location I had in mind, but the 2-5am launch window found me with a bit of a late start. I ended up rushing here in fear that I would be driving and end up missing it all together. The light pollution was a big concern and can be seen lighting up the beach, but overall I was pleasantly surprised at the visibility of the event. Being able to get an unexpected bonus view of the Milky Way made it even more exciting. Congrats to NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on a successful launch!"
The five rockets released trimethylaluminium, a chemical compound that turns into aluminum oxide when released into the air, producing the ghostly white smokey clouds seen this morning in these photos.