SpaceX Rocket Causes Confusion in Southern California

SpaceX launched the latest of their rockets Friday at Vandenberg Air Force Base, sparking turmoil when the rocket's contrail flashed brightly across the sky. Many Californians who didn't know about the launch speculated that the flaming plume was caused by an alien spacecraft.

Although Spacex had previously announced the launch of their Falcon 9 rocket, they were caught off guard by the public response. Elon Musk, founder and CEO of SpaceX, took to Twitter to joke about the alien origins of the rocket contrail. However, he quickly reiterated that the phenomenon was terrestrial in nature as rumors and conspiracy theories began to spread online. The Los Angeles Fire Department also issued a media advisory to inform citizens about the true nature of the contrail's origin.

The mysterious plume of light appeared shortly after sunset and was caused by the rocket's exhaust trail catching the light from the sun at a high altitude. The dramatic display confounded observers from Arizona and Tijuana, Mexico. The fiery plume was reportedly also visible in Colorado.

The Falcon 9 rocket carried 10 satellites that will be part of Iridium Communications' Iridium NEXT satellite network. When completed, Iridium NEXT will consist of 66 satellites transmitting mobile data and monitoring global airline traffic. The launch is SpaceX's fourth of the year for the telecommunications firm. The company sent their first contingent of 10 satellites into space in January. In June, a Falcon 9 rocket successfully launched 10 satellites into low-Earth orbit. In October, another 10 Iridium satellites were launched with a new Falcon 9.

The Falcon 9 is a reusable rocket that most famously carries the Dragon, a reusable cargo spacecraft used to make supply runs to the International Space Station. An improved version of the Falcon 9 called the Falcon Heavy is set to debut sometime in early 2018. The new design features 27 engines and two additional boosters. Unlike its predecessor, the Falcon Heavy is designed to carry humans and will launch two private citizens into space. SpaceX also plans to begin carrying astronauts to the ISS next year. Their long-term goal is transporting passengers into moon orbit and establishing a base on the surface. Musk also hopes to eventually develop the technology to allow humans to journey to Mars.


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