Skip to main content

Here’s why the spectacular SpaceX rocket launch in California looked so incredible

The combination of Elon Musk and social media haven’t exactly been a winning recipe for most of 2018. Last night’s SpaceX satellite launch took steps to help rectify that, however — as Twitter users who lived in the vicinity of the launch posted jaw-dropping photos and video of the spectacular event and the amazing sky-illuminating effects that resulted from it.

The rocket launch took place from Vandenberg Air Force Base, 158 miles north of Los Angeles. It took off at 19.21 PST and touched back down eight minutes later, having delivered the SAOCOM-1A Earth-observation radar satellite into orbit as part of Argentina’s national space program. this is the first time SpaceX has landed one of its booster rockets on the West Coast. Overall, this is the 30th landing of a booster, with the rest of them taking place in Florida.

@elonmusk @SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket taking off above Downtown Los Angeles in timelapse #SpaceX #Falcon9

— Emeric Le Bars (@EmericTimelapse) October 8, 2018

What’s really got people talking, though, is the awesome light show that the launch created in the sky over Los Angeles. Like some cross between the Northern Lights and the scene from Independence Day where the aliens arrive, it was utterly mesmerizing on every level. As the rocket shot through the sky, people from as far away from Arizona were treated to a display of blue and white clouds across the sky.

The otherworldly display was caused by the rocket’s exhaust vapor, which condensed to form ice crystals in the frigid upper reaches of earth’s atmosphere. These crystals were then lit up by the setting Sun, creating a glittering burst of colors that lit up the darkening California sky. The explanation might be simple, but the spectacle’s impact on people watching below was anything but.

“THAT WAS AMAZING!” tweeted feature animator Joaquin Baldwin. “The @SpaceX launch from Vandenberg was incredible! I took one long photo, 9 minutes long, the stage 2 cloud was spiraling out of control, what a show!”

Nope, definitely not aliens.

What you’re looking at is the first launch and landing of the @SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on the West Coast. The rocket took off from Vandenberg Air Force Base at 7:21 p.m. and landed safely back on Earth. ????

— Mayor Eric Garcetti (@MayorOfLA) October 8, 2018

“Tonight’s #spacex launch was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen,” rocket photographer and high-speed videographer Ryan Chylinski tweeted. “Inconceivable image from my camera and in my brain.”

Others, who hadn’t been keeping up with the news, reacted in bafflement at the sight — although that did little to stop them sharing their reaction on social media.

Seth MacFarlane, the creator of cartoon series Family Guy, probably had the best, most succinct reaction to the astonishing showcase. “Science!” he tweeted, next to an image snapped from his smartphone. Yep, that about sums it up!

SAOCOM 1A Mission
Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
SpaceX Crew-4 astronauts are on their way to the space station
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Crew-4 astronauts launching from the Kennedy Space Center.

SpaceX’s Crew-4 mission to the International Space Station (ISS) launched from Kennedy’s Launch Complex 39A at just after 3:50 a.m. ET (12:50 a.m. PT) on Wednesday, April 27.

NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren, Bob Hines, and Jessica Watkins, along with Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency, are now on their way to the orbiting outpost with docking expected to take place on Wednesday evening. The crew will spend the next six months living and working aboard the station 250 miles above Earth.

Read more
How to watch SpaceX Crew-4 astronauts launch to ISS
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launching from Cape Canaveral.

NASA Live: Official Stream of NASA TV

NASA and SpaceX are making final preparations for the launch of four astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A. The Crew-4 astronauts were originally supposed to launch on Saturday, April 23, but due to the late departure from the ISS of the Ax-1 mission, the mission won't get underway until Wednesday, April 27, at the earliest.

Read more
Check out this cool NASA image of SpaceX Crew-3’s ride home
A SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft docked at the ISS.

A stunning image shared by NASA shows the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endurance spacecraft at the International Space Station (ISS) just a few days before it brings home the Crew-3 astronauts.

Crew Dragon Endurance docked at the International Space Station about 250 miles above Earth. NASA

Read more