NASA is planning to launch a fleet of five rockets late tonight at Wallops Island, Virginia to study very high-altitude winds and it could put on a brief, but impressive light show for those in the Mid-Atlantic including the DC, Philly and NYC metro regions, who should be able to see glowing streaks from the rocket’s vapor trails (southeastern sky). The launch window will be open tonight between midnight and 3AM and the exact timing will depend upon the local weather conditions. This mission is called the Anomalous Transport Rocket Experiment (ATREX) and was originally planned for earlier in the month, but was postponed a few times for various reasons including the weather as recently as late last night (you guessed it – low clouds and fog).
The high-altitude winds to be studied race along at high speeds of 300 mph or more at 60-65 miles above the Earth’s surface and are higher and stronger than the “conventional” jet stream that is commonly referred to in weather forecasts. The rockets will be launched 80 seconds apart on five different trajectories and will release a chemical tracer to help track the upper-level winds. It is expected that this will create glowing, milky white clouds that can be visible for up to 20 minutes near the east coast from New England to South Carolina. Researchers will monitor three different cameras (one at Wallops Island, one in NJ, and one in NC) to track the tracer clouds and calculate how quickly they move away from one another. Hopefully, clues will be provided about why these “upper-level” jet stream winds are faster than the “conventional” jet stream winds and what exactly is powering them. NASA will broadcast the five launches live at: http://sites.wff.nasa.gov/webcast/.
Clear skies are needed for the launch to give the three cameras the best possible view; therefore, given the current stubborn moist ocean flow of air along the Mid-Atlantic coast, it is certainly not a given for late tonight – may be best to check this web site early in the evening for the latest information.