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Morning glory: Exhaust from Cape Canaveral launch glows with rays from rising sun

Clear across the state in Tampa Bay, people marveled at the breathtaking display from the wake of an Atlas V rocket.
The unusual exhaust trail from an Atlas 5 rocket launch in Cape Canaveral turned heads as far away as Tampa Bay. This view is looking east on 38th Avenue N in St. Petersburg. [Courtesy of Steve Martin]
Published Aug. 8
Updated Aug. 8

The sun’s rays illuminate the exhaust trail during a rocket launch from Cape Canaveral on Thursday, drawing “Oooohs!” and “Aaaahhhs!” from people who had planned to watch and from those surprised by the spectacle as they looked up during their morning travels

The Atlas V rocket launched just after 6 Thursday morning on Florida’s east coast and immediately, images started appearing on social media sites.

Some observers found divine intervention in the exhaust trail, including a glowing bulb at the tail end from some vantage points.

Images posted on Twitter show different shapes over the course of the exhaust trail’s short life, including the glowing bulb, a brilliant arc and a series of orange-red "S" shapes at it diminished.

Other observers expressed concern that the unusual shapes might signal something went wrong, as they did on January 28, 1986, when the Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart shortly after takeoff and all seven crew members died.

But the United Launch Alliance declared the launch a success.

A two-hour launch window opened at 5:44 a.m. and after “a couple of minor issues” were resolved, the NASA website said, the Atlas 5 lifted off at 06:13 a.m. just in time to capture rays that preceded the 6:48 a.m. sunrise at the cape.

It was the second launch from Cape Canaveral in two days.

The rocket will deploy an advanced communications satellite for the U.S. Air Force, according to the NASA website.

Atlas V is one of two rockets operated by United Launch Alliance, formed in 2006 as a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing under the Air Force’s National Security Space Launch program. Along withthe Delta IV rocket, Atlas conducts national security launches for the U.S. military and for commercial and scientific launches.

First flown in August 2002, the Atlas V hed been launched 79 times before Thursday’s liftoff without failing or losing a payload, the NASA website said.


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