SpaceX rocket launch creates strange light in skies from Florida to NC

Around the South

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Early Sunday morning at 6:01, SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The rocket launched 60 more Starlink satellites into orbit without failure and landed the booster for a record ninth time in the Atlantic Ocean.

Daylight saving time provided just enough coverage for North Carolina and Virginia residents to get a glimpse of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch.

Due to the time switch, there was an extra hour before sunrise at 7 a.m. which brought out a quick, yet beautiful sight of the rocket launched all the way from Cape Canaveral in Florida.

People in North Carolina and Virginia quickly shared images and videos of the rocket launch on social media.

Photo by WAVY Meteorologist Casey Lehecka

In Florida, the launch created a slightly different image in the sky.

After the launch, the rocket’s contrail lingered in the early morning sky. It lingered through the “astronomical twilight” hours, which is defined as when the sun is 12 to 18 degrees below the horizon, according to

During the twilight hours in Florida, the sun’s rays illuminated the elevated remnants of the contrail high up in the atmosphere. The bright clouds many saw illuminated are called noctilucent clouds. They are brighter than the surrounding clouds because they are significantly higher than the rest, hundreds of thousands of feet up. At this height in the atmosphere, the contrail is made up of tiny ice crystals.

While the sun is not above the horizon yet, the rays are. The sun’s rays are just peaking around the curvature of the earth (for us) and illuminating the ice crystals. As the light passes through the ice, it bends and we see different colors.

Officer Phillips took this photo of the noctilucent cloud over the Pelican Gulf Club. You cam see the colors created from the sun’s ray bending through the ice crystals that make up the cloud.

To visualize how the clouds are illuminated, take a flashlight and point it at a tennis ball from a few feet away. From our perspective, we would be sitting near the top of the ball but the light isn’t reaching the surface yet. However, the rays are lighting up the area above us and if you put an object up there, you’ll see it light up, much like the clouds are here.

— WAVY-TV contributed to this report

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Trending Stories

Click here for full list of trending stories