SpaceX Starlink launch spawns spectacular glowing cloud in predawn sky

The aftermath of a SpaceX Starlink launch from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 6, 2022 sprawls across the sky before dawn in this stunning view. (Image credit: SpaceX)

Space coast residents got a treat early Friday (May 6) when SpaceX's the latest Starlink satellite fleet launch spawned an eerie glowing cloud that shined like some medieval fantasy monster in the predawn sky.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket topped with 53 of SpaceX's Starlink Internet satellites successfully lifted off at 5:42 a.m. EDT (0942 GMT) from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Professional photos from SpaceX captured the spectacular predawn launch as it streaked over the Atlantic Ocean, lighting up the clouds. This was the 12th launch for this particular Falcon 9 rocket's first stage, tying a company reuse record, and the first stage once again landed at sea on top of one of SpaceX's drone ships.

Related: SpaceX's Starlink megaconstellation launches in photos

Floridians and visitors to the coast also caught views of the glowing rocket as it made its way high into the atmosphere. This type of effect is called a "space jellyfish", which is produced due to a combination of the Falcon 9's exhaust and the timing of the launch, as our sister website LiveScience pointed out.

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The exhaust exiting the nozzle was "under-expanded," meaning the gas was at a higher pressure than the surrounding air. The rising sun, very close to the horizon, then illuminated the exhaust plume and caused the bright glow, Chris Combs, a professor of aerodynamics and mechanical engineering at the University of Texas at San Antonio explained on Twitter.

The pretty physical phenomenon showed up in videos, pictures and even in a pool's reflection as local social media users captured their views of the sky.

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Here's a more traditional launch view of from SpaceX of its 53 new Starlink satellites soaring to orbit on top of a Falcon 9 booster on May 6, 2022. (Image credit: SpaceX)

Editor's note: If you captured a stunning view of the SpaceX's Starlink satellite launch on Friday and want to share it for an image gallery or story, let us know! You can send images and comments in to spacephotos@space.com.

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook. 

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for Space.com for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace