Home Features Best of 2012 Best of 2012 // #85: Testing The Edge of Our Planet

Best of 2012 // #85: Testing The Edge of Our Planet

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Best of 2012 // #85: Testing The Edge of Our Planet
On March 27th of this year, beautiful streams of light spread across the night sky along the Eastern Seaboard.  They were visible from upstate New York to North Carolina, but what were they?  UFO’s? Aliens?  Neither.  It was actually NASA, flying five suborbital rockets to the edge of space, where they purposely released chemical traces that reacted with the oxygen in the thin atmosphere.
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The team behind the experiment, led by Clemson University physicist Miguel Larsen, allowed the tracers to float into the upper layers of our atmosphere, where they followed the movements, showing researchers some previously unknown characteristics of the upper jet stream.  The upper jet stream are very high altitude winds, zipping along the thinnest layers of the atmosphere at more than 300 miles per hour, generating electrical currents that surround our planet.

“This is an important region of the atmosphere because it affects so many things that occur in space,” Larsen says.

The experiment, formally known as the Anomalous Transport Rocket Experiment will let researchers better understand and model electrical activity around the planet, which can interfere with signals from spacecraft and satellites.

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