The launch, which lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, north of Los Angeles, carried 10 Iridium Next communications satellites into orbit just after sunset, leaving a vast glowing plume in its wake as it soared into space on a southward trajectory. [See more of the SpaceX launch photos here]
That glowing cloud sparked thoughts of UFOs for some observers, which they shared on Twitter (SpaceX CEO Elon Musk made a UFO joke, too), and the Los Angeles Fire Department even issued a statement alerting the public that the "mysterious light in the sky"' was just a SpaceX rocket launch.
Photographer Erica Kelly Martin captured a stunning view of the launch from Hollywood, California, with the Falcon 9's second stage streaking spaceward.
In La Jolla, the launch surprised Hany Girgis during a dinner out with friends.
"We had someone in the group that knew it was the SpaceX launch. Otherwise, everyone at the table had no idea what it was," Girgis, who posted the photo on his Instagram never_unpacking, said in an email. "Everyone there started pulling out their phones and taking video and photos. It was an incredible sight with the sun setting and the palm trees in the background."
For Michelle Snyder in Coronado, California, the launch was a surprise, but one she'll never forget.
"Caught off guard and had no idea what was happening at first ... must say it was one of my life's coolest moments!!!," Snyder told Space.com in an email. She captured the stunning video of the launch the Hotel del Coronado featured above. "A forever memory with my daughters and parents who were in town visiting for the holidays. FOREVER MEMORY!!!
In Big Bear, California, where Jennifer Garrison of Apple Valley was spending the holidays with family, the launch was a welcome addition the festive Christmas lights around the neighborhood. And, of course, it was a family event.
"My 8-year-old, Nicholas, and 5-year-old, Ethan, are in a few of the photos, enjoying the view!" Garrison told Space.com.
Reports of launch sightings came from far and wide, including some on Twitter from Tijuana in Mexico and others from Tucson, Arizona.
It was in Tucson where observer Jeff Ladderud spotted the Falcon 9 lighting up the sky. He grabbed his iPhone, snapped a photo and sent it in to Space.com in an email.
"It was only taken with an iPhone camera, so quality isn't stellar; but I was impressed that we could see the launch all the way from Tucson, AZ — some 575 miles away!" Ladderud told Space.com via email.
The launch was also clearly visible from the air. Rafael Vecchi was on a commercial flight from Phoenix, Arizona to Salt Lake City, Utah, when the flight's pilot made a surprise announcement.
"The pilot came on the intercom to say that there was something he had never seen out the left window. He probably didn't mean to say it like that, but it was unsettling to hear your pilot say that," Vecchi told Space.com. " So we all crowded to the windows. A few minutes he came on to say it was a rocket launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base. I've read Elon Musk's biography and have watched some YouTube live launches, and it was amazing to see it in person."
Amazing, indeed! The launch was so well-observed that the stories here are just a few of the hundreds of photos and sightings we've received at Space.com. We'll keep adding images to our gallery here over time.
And for the record,here's my view of the launch from the I-5 freeway in Irvine, California.
Not enough photos? Here are some amazing launch photos by SpaceX:
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 Space.com for a story or gallery, send images and comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org.