WRAL WeatherCenter Blog

NASA rockets leave glowing trails against the night sky

Posted March 27, 2012

Took these pics near Williamston, NC from 5 to 5:30 am this morning!  5 rockets launched from NASA's Wallops Island Spaceport in Virginia.  I have more pics detailing wider shots (all five rockets at once).

— Tuesday morning, starting at 4:58 a.m., NASA launched five sounding rockets bound for the upper-level jet stream 60 miles above above the Earth's surface. The resulting glowing clouds created by the experiment were visible from the WRAL viewing area and reportedly from Wilmington, N.C., to Buffalo, N.Y., and as far west as Charleston, W.Va.

The rockets released a harmless chemical which, when combined with the oxygen in the atmosphere, created glowing clouds. Cameras positioned at the Virginia launch site along with others in Duck, N.C., and near Atlantic City, N.J., tracked the clouds. Imagery from those cameras will be used to create a three dimensional model of the winds, which can reach 300 mph, for further study.

ATREX Cloud NASA rockets leave glowing trails in the night sky

The launch, originally scheduled for March 14, was scrubbed several times due to weather. Mission requirements included clear weather not just at the launch site but also at the other two camera sites. This morning's launch came just minutes before the end of the launch window due to high surface winds at the launch site.

Tony Rice is a volunteer in the NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador program and software engineer at Cisco Systems. You can follow him on twitter @rtphokie.


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  • busyb97 Mar 29, 2012

    "Shouldn't NASA warn people about impending launches? We watched the rockets this morning and debated calling someone but decided since it was coming from the north east it was probably jets from Seymour Johnson Air Base using countermeasure flares...what if it was a rocket attack from a foreign country...no one would know to report it!"

    I dont think the US military powers need little ole us reporting a missile launch. They have that covered I am sure with Norad montioring every piece of sky around us. By the time anyone called 911 and THEY figured out what the heck, it would be over anyway, especially if you already see it.

    It would have been nice had they mentioned it last night though (I dont usually watch the live news...too many commercials)

  • Tony Rice Mar 27, 2012

    Be sure to follow WRAL Weather on Facebook. Interesting tidbits like this are posted there as well. https://www.facebook.com/WRALWeather

  • baracus Mar 27, 2012

    "It should have been on the news yesterday so we could have seen it. It's like reporting an eclipse AFTER it happens. Come on WRAL, tighten up."

    If you search they did report it at some point. Another point though is that this launch was rescheduled like 4 or 5 times before everything went off as planned last night. How many times would you have gotten up at 4 in the morning only to discover it had been called off at the last minute before giving up all together?

  • dryjr Mar 27, 2012

    It was on wral a few Days ago. Why do you need to know anyway? have you got a personal sattelite up there or something?

  • not my real name Mar 27, 2012

    It should have been on the news yesterday so we could have seen it. It's like reporting an eclipse AFTER it happens. Come on WRAL, tighten up.

  • davidk_at_unc Mar 27, 2012

    "Thanks Obama for setting back space exploration 40 years." -- C6-YA

    Birds gotta fly, haters gotta hate.

  • davidk_at_unc Mar 27, 2012

    "How can any chemicals be harmless?" -- nialet

    Water's a chemical. It's pretty harmless. So is sodium bicarbonate. Does that sound familiar? How about sodium chloride? Kool aid's made up of chemicals too and it's pretty harmless as well - unless you're drinking too much of the wrong kind!

  • ncouterbanks69 Mar 27, 2012

    For all of the "Why weren't we told?" folks. This has been in the news for a couple of weeks. You have to read other stories and and more than one source for your news, not just the headlines on WRAL. Also try www.heavens-above.com this site will give you some really cool things to look at in the night sky.

    I am sure it was. However if you are going to report it after the fact you should have reported it before it happened as well. If not just don't report it afterwards.

  • pm2 Mar 27, 2012

    I thought Obama got rid of NASA....

  • ringersrule Mar 27, 2012

    My 8th-grade meteorology-crazed son got up at 3:30 and tracked the launch. He went outside to try to see the trails but was disappointed. I guess we live too close to city lights. I hope he stays awake during classes today!