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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 pic.twitter.com/FzXuf9Coky

— 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. ???? pic.twitter.com/8AKjGptpps

— 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…
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