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Did you see a low-flying jet in CT this week? That was likely NASA, the agency says

FILE- NASA's DC-8 airborne science laboratory returning to NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in November of 2007.
Jim Ross
NASA Photos
FILE- NASA's DC-8 airborne science laboratory returning to NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in November of 2007.

A large low-flying jet was spotted roaring over Connecticut this week.

The four-engine DC-8 was moving Wednesday at speeds of around 250 miles per hour and at the relatively low altitude of only a few thousand feet.

The odd aerial display prompted some to wonder: What the heck just buzzed us?

It was likely NASA, officials say. The agency is flying research missions in collaboration with NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to study air quality.

An agency spokesperson confirmed its flying laboratory was gathering data in the area Wednesday. The plane took off in Ohio and made its way up to Connecticut around 1 p.m.

“Residents in/near the areas under the flight path usually see and hear the DC-8 as it collects data on air quality and pollution, since the aircraft is so big and loud,” NASA spokesperson Erica Heim said in an email. “However, all flyovers are conducted [at] a safe altitude without harm to public, wildlife, or infrastructure.”

The mission is called AEROMMA and is led by scientists at NOAA. Scientists on the plane are studying air quality around cities and over the water with a focus on pollution sources from people.

To do that scientific work, they’re using the low-flying – and highly noticeable – NASA DC-8. The agency describes the quad-jet as “the world’s largest flying chemistry laboratory.” The plane is outfitted with a variety of scientific instruments to conduct research into atmospheric science.

After entering Connecticut, the DC-8 cut a zig-zag pattern through Fairfield County and up into western Connecticut. It then moved south across Long Island Sound and passed over eastern and central Connecticut before landing in Trenton, New Jersey, flight records show.

The plane is currently in the second half of its mission flying patterns around the eastern U.S. to survey air quality in major urban areas like New York and Atlanta, NOAA says.

Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached at pskahill@ctpublic.org.

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