Satellite launch lights up social media
SpaceX launched a rocket carrying an Argentine Earth-observation satellite. It came from California's Central Coast. It lit up both the night sky and social media.
Many people saw the rocket. People as far away as San Francisco saw it. People in Sacramento and Phoenix. And people in Reno, Nevada. They posted photos of the Falcon 9 rocket's launch and return. It was the first time SpaceX landed a first-stage booster back at its launch site. That's at Vandenberg Air Force Base. It is about 130 miles northwest of Los Angeles.
The Air Force warned residents on the Central Coast that they might see multiple engine burns by the first stage. And residents might hear one or more sonic booms as it returned.
But many far beyond the region were taken by surprise when the launch lit up the sky. They wondered what the otherworldly looking sight was. Some speculated it was a comet. Others thought it was an alien aircraft.
"Something exploded in the sky west of Phoenix," Laura Gadbery wrote on Twitter. "Anyone catch it or know what it was?"
Lloyd Lawrence was another Twitter user who lives in Phoenix. It is about 490 miles away from the launch site. He said he was driving on Interstate 10 when he saw the launch. He said he "couldn't believe my eyes."
"I wondered who was holding the gigantic flashlight in the sky," he wrote.
Others in Reno, Nevada also saw the galactic wonder. Reno is about 340 miles away from the site.
Jill Bergantz Carley wrote : "OK Twitter, what the heck is this #UFO #brightlight #plume-a-licious thing we just saw in the sky above #Reno. It radiated beams of light!"
Debi Hammond wrote : "Strangest thing I've ever seen in the sky. Anyone know what this is?"
Californians from Los Angeles to Sacramento also posted their confusion. Sacramento is about 270 miles from the launch site.
Eric Garcetti is mayor of Los Angeles. He was among those trying to clear up the speculation. He tweeted a photo of the launch and wrote: "Nope, definitely not aliens."
Those who knew they were watching a satellite launch posted videos they captured of the stunning spectacle. This included one taken over the downtown Los Angeles skyline and a timelapse from Kern County.
The primary purpose of the SpaceX mission was to place the SAOCOM 1A satellite into orbit. But SpaceX also wanted to expand its recovery of first stages to its launch site at Vandenberg.
SpaceX had previously flown first-stage rockets back to land after Florida launches. But it had not done so on the West Coast.
SpaceX also has successfully landed Falcon 9 first stages on so-called drone ships. They were off the coasts of Florida and California. All of this is part of its effort to decrease the cost of space launches. They can reduce the cost by reusing rockets rather than allowing them to fall into the ocean.
The satellite is the first of two from Argentina's space agency. The agency is called Comision Nacional de Actividades Espaciales. It will work in conjunction with a constellation of Italian space agency satellites. Its acronym is short for Satelite Argentino de Observacion Con Microondas.
SAOCOM 1A carries a high-resolution instrument called a synthetic aperture radar. It will be used for emergency management during disasters and for land monitoring. The second satellite will be SAOCOM 1B.