SpaceX's Jaw-Dropping Rocket Launch Wows Spectators Across Southern California

Update: Check out more amazing SpaceX launch photos by our readers here: UFO? No, It's a SpaceX Rocket! These Falcon 9 Launch Photos Are Just Amazing

MISSION VIEJO, Calif. — Wow! Talk about some Friday night lights! A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lit up the evening sky over Southern California last night (Dec. 22) in a dazzling display that was visible to potentially millions of spectators and set Twitter abuzz with sightings. 

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched into space from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base north of Los Angeles at 5:27 p.m. PST (8:27 p.m. EST/0127 GMT) — just 30 minutes after sunset — carrying 10 Iridium Next communications satellites into orbit. The mission was a success, with all 10 satellites reaching their intended orbits. But it was the jaw-dropping views of the Falcon 9 streaking into space that stole the show, leaving an ethereal glowing plume in its wake as it soared into orbit. 

"Caught off guard and had no idea what was happening at first ...must say it was one of my life's coolest moments!!!," said Michelle Snyder, who watched the launch from the Hotel del Coronado in Coronado, California. She sent in the video shown above. "A forever memory with my daughters and parents who were in town visiting for the holidays. FOREVER MEMORY!!!

From a southbound lane of the Interstate-5 freeway in Irvine, the launch wowed my 9-year-old daughter Zadie, who marveled at seeing the Falcon 9's first stage separate from its upper stage ("I saw first stage separation? I saw stage separation!") as we drove to meet relatives for the holidays. Her final say on the launch: "That is beautiful!"

My daughter wasn't alone in her awe. Observers across Southern California, and even as far away as Arizona and Tijuana, Mexico, reported stunning views of the launch.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk chimed in with a joke: "Nuclear alien UFO from North Korea," he wrote in a video post of the launch on Twitter.

Scroll down to see more spectacular views of the launch shared by observers.

Enjoy those awesome views? We'll try to share more as readers send in images, but SpaceX says its rocket launch shows will only get better.

In one last Twitter post, Elon Musk promised even more spectacular views when SpaceX's new heavy-lift rocket — the Falcon Heavy — begins launching in 2018. That rocket consists of three first-stage boosters, each of them based on the Falcon 9 first stage, that will separate and return to Earth much like the booster seen in Friday night's launch.

"If you liked tonight's launch, you will really like Falcon Heavy next month: 3 rocket cores & 3X thrust. 2 cores return to base doing synchronized aerobatics. 3rd lands on droneship," Musk wrote.

The first Falcon Heavy test flight will launch in January from Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida carrying Musk's midnight cherry red Tesla Roadster into space (no really, here are the photos).

So keep your eyes peeled in 2018!

Editor's note: If you captured an amazing photo of video of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket launch and would like to share it with for a story or gallery, send images and comments in to: This story was updated at 10:42 a.m. EST to include the video and comments by Michelle Snyder from Coronado, California.

Email Tariq Malik at or follow him @tariqjmalik and Google+. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at:

Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.