'Space jellyfish': SpaceX's latest launch emits an eerie glowing cloud in the sky

Why do rocket launches sometimes produce these massive glowing clouds?
Chris Young
A "space jellyfish" from a SpaceX launch on December 22, 2017.mdesigner125/iStock

It's not the Auroral Borealis, but it might be the closest you're going to see on Florida's Space Coast.

Locals were treated to a dazzling display early on Friday, May 6, when SpaceX launched its latest Starlink mission, sending 53 more of its internet satellites into orbit.

That launch emitted a glowing cloud known as a "space jellyfish," due to its resemblance to the sea creature.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifted off at 5:42 a.m. EDT (0942 GMT) from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Several photographers captured the resulting space jellyfish that loomed over the launch site and the Atlantic Ocean after the predawn launch successfully took to the skies.

SpaceX's latest Starlink launch emits a "space jellyfish"

The impressive light show took place due to the predawn timing of SpaceX's latest launch. According to LiveScience, the space jellyfish effect is produced as a result of the Falcon 9's exhaust combined with the time of day of the launch.

The exhaust exiting the Falcon 9 as it launched toward orbit was "under-expanded", meaning it was at a higher pressure than its surrounding air. Sunbeams from the rising sun, which could illuminate the exhaust thanks to its high altitude, then caused the bright glowing cloud effect.

The latest SpaceX Starlink mission was the 12th launch for this particular Falcon 9 rocket, equalling a reuse record for the company. It will likely now be a while before we see another space jellyfish over the Space Coast. SpaceX's next launch will be the rideshare mission Transporter 5, which is expected to launch on June 1 aboard a Falcon 9.

The company is also focused on getting its fully reusable Starship launch vehicle into orbit for the first time. SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell recently claimed that Starship's orbital maiden flight could take place as soon as June or July, though the space firm must first get the green light from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which has delayed its environmental review for Starship on a number of occasions.

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