US launches five rockets to chart high-altitude winds
Washington: NASA launched five rockets early today to measure a high-altitude jet stream some 105 kilometers above the Earth's surface, far higher than most planes fly, the US space agency said.
The rockets, known as the Anomalous Transport Rocket Experiment (ATREX) were to release a chemical that leaves a milky-white trail allowing observers on Earth to "see" the winds in space and track them with cameras, it said.
"This area shows winds much larger than expected," Miguel Larsen, a space scientist at Clemson University who is the principal investigator for the five rockets, said in a statement ahead of the launch.
The winds reach speeds of 320-480 kilometers per hour, and may offer valuable information about the electromagnetic regions of space that can damage satellites and disrupt communications systems, NASA said.
"We don't yet know what we're going to see, but there is definitely something unusual going on. ATREX will help us understand the big question about what is driving these fast winds," Larsen said.
The winds are far higher than the 30,000-foot (six-mile) high jet stream, in which passenger planes fly and which is often mentioned in weather reports.
The rockets successfully launched at around 5:00 am (local time) from Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, NASA announced on its Twitter feed.
A map on NASA's website said the chemical tracers -- which will last for up to 20 minutes -- may be visible to the public across much of the US eastern seaboard, from New Hamphsire down to North Carolina.
"People have launched single rockets before," Larsen said. "But the key here is that we're extending the range of measurements to many hundreds of miles. The furthest rocket will make it half way to Bermuda."