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Rockets' 'white' glare helps NASA study high atmospheric winds

Rockets' 'white' glare helps NASA study high atmospheric winds
This photo provided by NASA shows chemical tracers that were released from five rockets launched from NASA's Wallops Island test flight facility in Atlantic, Va., Tuesday morning March 27, 2012. (AP Photo/NASA)

NASA took a rather unique approach to study winds in the far upper reaches of the atmosphere early Tuesday morning -- launch a rocket that put out its own clouds so they could see in real time where the winds blow -- much like putting some colored dye in pool of water to see where the water is flowing.

Here is an Associated Press story by writer Brock Vergakis:


NORFOLK, Va. (AP) - Milky white chemical clouds were briefly visible in much of the night sky along the Eastern seaboard on Tuesday after NASA launched a series of rockets to study the jet stream at the edge of the earth's atmosphere.

The five sounding rockets began blasting off just before 5 a.m. from NASA's Wallops Island facility on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Each of the rockets was fired about 80 seconds apart and released a chemical cloud so that scientists could `see' little-understood winds about 65 miles above the earth's surface. Firing multiple rockets allows scientists to track the high-speed winds over hundreds of miles.

NASA said it received reports that the chemical clouds were visible as far south as Wilmington, N.C.; west to Charleston, W.Va.; and north to Buffalo, N.Y. The clouds were also visible above major metropolitan areas like Washington and New York.

The winds NASA is studying travel at speeds of up to 300 miles per hour in an area of the atmosphere where there are strong electrical currents.

Data gathered from the experiment should allow scientists to better model the electromagnetic regions of space that can damage satellites and affect radio communications.

Scientists also hope the experiment will help explain how atmospheric disturbances in one part of the globe can be transported to other parts of the globe in a day or two.

NASA had been trying to launch the rockets since March 14, but had a series of delays due to bad weather. NASA needed skies to be clear in Virginia as well as coastal North Carolina and New Jersey, where the space agency had cameras set up to capture images of the clouds.


You can see some more photos at spaceweather.com