Human Journey

NASA Rockets Paint Glowing Trails in the Sky

It was down to the wire, but after numerous weather delays NASA managed to launch five sub-orbital sounding rockets Tuesday morning just before 5 am ET from their Wallops Flight Facility  in Virginia. The Anomalous Transport Rocket Experiment (ATREX) mission will help unravel some of the mysteries surrounding the inner clockwork of the jet stream located in the uppermost portion of the atmosphere, near the edge of space.

To help track these high altitude winds, as each unmanned rockets reached the 60 mile altitude mark, they released a chemical tracer which formed wispy, white clouds that allowed researchers to visualize the winds.

Meanwhile early bird skywatchers across much of the U.S. northeast coastline were treated to an eerie sky show too, with many reporting from Massachusetts to North Carolina of seeing the luminous white vapor trails.

Veteran astrophotographer Jeff Berkes captured the awesome image above, of these man-made high altitude streaks from just outside of Philadelphia in West Chester, Pennsylvania, about 180 miles north of the launch site.

“The chemical tracers could be seen for hundreds of miles,” said Berkes.

Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.

About the Blog

Researchers, conservationists, and others share stories, insights and ideas about Our Changing Planet, Wildlife & Wild Spaces, and The Human Journey. More than 50,000 comments have been added to 10,000 posts. Explore the list alongside to dive deeper into some of the most popular categories of the National Geographic Society’s conversation platform Voices.

Opinions are those of the blogger and/or the blogger’s organization, and not necessarily those of the National Geographic Society. Posters of blogs and comments are required to observe National Geographic’s community rules and other terms of service.

Voices director: David Braun (

Social Media