A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket produced an unusual visual phenomenon in the skies above South Carolina following a launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida on Friday.
Footage of the fireball streaking across the sky was filmed by Argenis Irizarry, who captured a video while he was on his way to work, driving on the highway with his wife and son early Friday morning.
“It was around 5:50 a.m. when I first noticed. To be honest I was a little bit scared at first, I didn’t know what was going on. At first I thought it was a meteor or some kind of celestial body falling to earth because I could see like the trace of fire on the back,” Irizarry told Newsweek.
The rocket, which lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center, at around 5:42 a.m. ET, successfully carried 53 Starlink internet satellites into orbit, with the booster subsequently landing safely on a drone ship.
But perhaps the most intriguing part of this launch was the striking atmospheric effect it created in the sky, which is sometimes referred to as a “space jellyfish.”
This phenomenon occurs when sunlight reflects off a rocket exhaust plume at high-altitude during morning or evening twilight.
A screenshot from the video captured by Argenis Irizarry showing a SpaceX rocket above South Carolina producing the “space jellyfish” phenomenon.
While the observer is usually standing in darkness, the exhaust plume at high-altitude is being illuminated by sunlight coming from over the horizon, which causes it to glow brightly, producing the “space jellyfish” phenomenon—named after its bulbous shape.
“As the launch goes up the exhaust [plume] expands in the light part of the atmosphere and the sunlight is then reflected off of some of that moisture and some of the other leftovers from the launch,” 10 Tampa Bay Meteorologist Grant Gilmore said. “This is creating an incredible view.”
Social media users in Florida and other parts of the southern United States posted images and videos of the phenomenon following the launch.
Depending on the location of the observer, the shape and nature of the phenomenon in the sky can differ significantly.
Did you catch the noctilucent cloud from this morning’s launch? Here are a couple of views our forecasters got at shift change this morning! ðŸ¤“ #flwx pic.twitter.com/JLE0q261Zm
— NWS Tampa Bay (@NWSTampaBay) May 6, 2022
The effect created by the rocket exhaust plumes in these situations is similar to an atmospheric phenomenon known as noctilucent clouds, which occur naturally but typically much higher up.
These clouds form form in the mesosphere—the upper part of Earth’s atmosphere—at altitudes of around 50 miles, making them the highest clouds in the atmosphere.
At these altitudes it is so cold that the water vapor forming the clouds turns into ice crystals. They become visible during twilight when the sun illuminates them from below the horizon, according to the U.K. Met Office.
Source : Newsweek