WRAL WeatherCenter Blog

NASA rockets leave glowing trails against the night sky

Posted March 27, 2012 10:12 a.m. EDT
Updated March 27, 2012 11:38 a.m. EDT

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.

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.