NASA is planning to launch a fleet of five rockets at Wallops Island, Virginia early Tuesday to study very high-altitude winds in a mission called the Anomalous Transport Rocket Experiment (ATREX). The mission 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 early Tuesday between 2 and 5AM and the exact timing will depend upon the local weather conditions. This mission has been postponed several times over the past couple of weeks for various reasons including the weather, but a strong cold frontal passage should pave the way for clear skies overnight up and down the Mid-Atlantic coast. In fact, clear skies are needed in three different locations from New Jersey to North Carolina to give three different cameras the best possible view.
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 South NJ, and one in northeastern 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/. The countdown begins at 9PM Monday, March 26th, and more information can be found at the NASA web site.