Observing with Street Lights

Observing with Street Lights
Dark sky sites not always necessary to see the Milky Way (This image was taken ouside of a B&B in Julian, CA)

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Rocket plume for SpaceX Starlinks Launch from Vandenberg AFB as observed from the Observatory

 Greetings from Palmia Observatory,

Well, this week the clouds sort of disappeared and we had a chance to look for rocket plume in the sky.

I remembered the scheduled launch at about 7:45pm, June 23, Sunday evening and as I was out on a walk with Astronomer Assistant Ruby, I checked the launch details and sure enough it was in the final countdown stages.  I returned immediately to the Observatory and grabbed my flimsy tripod with DSLR attached and returned outside for a clearer view of the northwest sky.

I could see the rocket plume and I struggled to set up the tripod and DSLR only to notice the flashing red battery low signal.  So, these images and attached video are only captured with iPhone, not DSLR. But in the end, this was one of the most spectacular rocket plume images I have seen in some time.

Falcon 9 Starlinks launch from Vandenberg as seen in Mission Viejo (Source: Palmia Observatory)
Falcon 9 Starlinks launch from Vandenberg as seen in Mission Viejo (Source: Palmia Observatory)

The rocket plume first showed up in the sky coming from the Northwest and moving across the sky ending up too dim to see in the Southeast.  Here we the idealized light trajectory in a screenshot from Spaceflight Now.

Falcon 9 rocket trajectory (Source: Spaceflight Now)
Falcon 9 rocket trajectory (Source: Spaceflight Now)

Finally, when my DSLR camera battery started flashing red, I elected to just capture the launch rocket plumb with the iPhone.  In the video you can see various flashes of light that sort of jump out of the rocket plume.  These flashes are suspected of being launch operations like MECO, fairing separation, operation of the booster cold gas thrusters, and maybe even the booster separation from the second stage.  It should be possible by comparing the timeline of actual rocket operation sequences as described in the official SpaceX launch video to those times in this video, but that was too much effort for this lazy astronomer wannabe.  Check out the video below:

        iPhone Video of SpaceX Starlink Launch rocket plume (Source: Palmia Observatory)

Many other OCA members and ASIG members reported similar good luck in seeing the launch from Orange County.  I have not heard any reports from observers in other western states like Nevada, etc.

Until next time,

Resident Astronomer George

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