We have completed maintenance on DiscoverMagazine.com and action may be required on your account. Learn More

85. Glowing Trails on the Edge of Space

Measuring high-altitude winds with suborbital rockets

By Fangfei Shen
Jan 30, 2013 7:33 PMNov 12, 2019 6:39 AM
A spontaneously combusting aluminum compound traced high-altitude winds. | NASA


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

In the early morning of March 27, 2012, glowing streamers spread across the sky above the Eastern Seaboard. Visible from North Carolina to upstate New York, the eerie trails were created by five suborbital NASA rockets that soared to altitudes of 50 to 80 miles, where they released chemical tracers that reacted with oxygen in the thin upper atmosphere.

A team led by Miguel Larsen, a physicist at Clemson University, then monitored the tracers to follow the movements of the hard-to-study upper jet stream. Those high-altitude winds zip along at more than 300 miles per hour and generate electrical currents that surround the Earth.

“This is an important region of the atmosphere because it affects so many things that occur in space,” Larsen says. His mission—called the Anomalous Transport Rocket Experiment—will allow scientists to better model electrical activity that can interfere with signals from satellites and spacecraft.

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Discover Magazine Logo
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!


Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

To The Magazine

Save up to 40% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2024 Kalmbach Media Co.