Ethereal halo of light around full moon spotted during recent SpaceX rocket launch

a rocket launches below a full moon with a halo around it
The halo appeared around the full moon shortly before a Falcon 9 rocket carrying Starlink satellites lifted off from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. (Image credit: Gilbert E. Plumer)

An ethereal halo of light around the full moon created by ice crystals from overhanging clouds recently shone bright during a SpaceX rocket launch in Florida, setting the stage for a stunning time-lapse photo that captured the luminous ring and streaking rocket in the same frame.  

On Nov. 27, SpaceX launched one of its Falcon 9 rockets at 11:20 p.m. EST from Florida's Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. The rocket, which was carrying 23 Starlink satellites, promptly made it out of Earth's atmosphere and safely delivered its payload into low-Earth orbit

At the same time, November's full moon was also high in the sky and surrounded by a ring of light. The luminous halo was created by light reflecting off tiny ice crystals from cirrus clouds — thin and patchy clouds that form between 20,000 and 40,000 feet (6,100 and 12,200 meters) above Earth's surface, reported.

The rocket also punched a hole through the icy clouds shortly after launch but this was not the cause of the halo. It is unclear when the halo emerged but the time-lapse image spans exactly 128 seconds, which means the ring stayed intact for at least this long. 

Related: What is a moon halo?

Similar light arcs and halos are also occasionally spotted around the sun when the ice crystals from cirrus clouds perfectly align between our home star and an observer.

Photographer Gilbert Plumer took a time-lapse image of the rocket launch from Rockledge, around 20 miles (32 kilometers) from Cape Canaveral. The prolonged photo shows the fiery trajectory of the ascending rocket with the halo in the background.

On Nov. 9 a Falcon 9 rocket carrying supplies to the International Space Station also lifted off from Cape Canaveral with cirrus clouds overhead. But there was no halo on this occasion. (Image credit: Gilbert E. Plumer)

The number of SpaceX launches is increasing year on year as the company expands its Starlink constellation, which aims to make the internet more widely accessible across the globe. But, despite setting the stage for some cool photos, these more frequent launches may not be such a good thing, Plumer told Live Science in an email.

"The Starlink schedule has increased so much that there is a launch every week," Plumer said. The increase in orbiting satellites is making the sky much brighter than it used to be, which is already causing problems for astronomers, he added

In July, new research revealed that Starlink satellites are also "leaking" radio waves that could hinder radio astronomers too

The company has also been criticized because satellites can fall out of orbit and crash back to Earth during solar storms

Although this rocket launch was not the cause of the halo of light, Falcon 9 rockets have been linked to other visual phenomena in the past, including bright red streaks of aurora-like light that appear in the sky after the rockets open "holes" in the upper atmosphere, and whirlpool-like swirls of light, known as SpaceX spirals, which are created when frozen fuel is dumped from the rockets' spinning secondary boosters.

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Harry Baker
Live Science Staff Writer

Harry is a U.K.-based staff writer at Live Science. He studied Marine Biology at the University of Exeter (Penryn campus) and after graduating started his own blog site "Marine Madness," which he continues to run with other ocean enthusiasts. He is also interested in evolution, climate change, robots, space exploration, environmental conservation and anything that's been fossilized. When not at work he can be found watching sci-fi films, playing old Pokemon games or running (probably slower than he'd like).