NASA To Launch 5 Rockets Quickly To Track Winds

Skywatchers along the East Coast may be able to see a NASA experiment that will launch a series of rockets to learn more about the little-understood jet stream winds that circle the Earth at the edge of space.

On a clear night between March 21st and April 4th, NASA plans to launch five rockets in five minutes from its Wallops Island facility in coastal Virginia.

Each rocket will release a chemical leaving a long, milky-white cloud to track the winds that scientists will monitor from cameras on the coasts of North Carolina, Virginia and New Jersey.

The clouds should be visible to the human eye for about 20 minutes from roughly Myrtle Beach, S.C. to southern New Hampshire, and as far west as Morgantown, W.Va.

"People will be able to see it. They can also photograph it pretty easily," said Miguel Larsen, a Clemson University professor who is the mission's principal investigator.

The possible viewing area covers major cities like Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston, although it depends on ground lighting, cloud cover and the rockets' trajectories. Those in a smaller area from New York City to the Outer Banks in North Carolina might be able to see the rockets' glowing exhaust trails. NASA plans to post pictures and video taken by bystanders on its social media sites.

The small sounding rockets that usually carry a payload to space and them come back to Earth will crash into the Atlantic Ocean, where they will become artificial reefs. NASA said the experiment will cost about $4 million.

Each rocket will be fired different altitudes and distances, with the rocket going the longest distance crashing about halfway to Bermuda.

Firing multiple rockets allows scientists to track the high-speed winds over hundreds of miles.

The winds in the thermosphere about 65 miles above the surface can reach speeds up to 300 miles per hour. Larson said scientists aren't sure why there are such high winds at that altitude and the experiment will help address that question.

That altitude is also part of the ionosphere, where there are strong electrical currents from solar radiation. 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.

They aren't the same jet stream currents that circle closer to earth, affecting weather patterns and air travel.

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  • by plymouth Location: wash co on Mar 12, 2012 at 03:58 PM
    why doesn't the news media check this out???? makes for better news than what they are offering. i'd like to know more.
  • by Deputy on Mar 11, 2012 at 05:35 PM
    I work in that area and Ill tell you straight up that Ive seen the same things on several occasions.....
  • by This Is True on Mar 11, 2012 at 01:34 PM
    Why don't they come to tyrrell,washington and parts of dare county and find out what these white and greens orbs are flying around in usually late afternoon.Ihave seen them around one PM also.I have looked at the white ones at that 1 pm time through a 8-32X-56millimeter rifle scope.At 32X and an estimated 2 miles away the white ones look like a 100 watt light buld.Thats about the only shape you can make out on these things.The things fly very fast and can stop on a dime and change direction and take off and be out of sight in about three second.I have not seen or heard of anything our military has that will do what these things do in flight.My entire family has seen them and have showed a couple off my friends these things so don't doubt me they are real what ever they are....Now let the bashing and name calling begin.It don't bother me a bit.These things are real.

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