The definition of a UFO is an “unidentified flying object.” And that was certainly what a lot of people in Florida saw in the early morning of May 6, 2002. Social media accounts all over the state posted photos, videos, and breathless accounts from folks who were stunned to see a giant shining orb slowly floating through the dark sky.
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In the video, this woman is utterly baffled by the strange glow in the sky, following it from in front of her house out into the street to try and follow its path. And she’s not alone. TikTok is full of videos like this, and people debating the existence of “night rainbows” and alien life.
The gorgeous display was certainly unusual, and possibly even frightening to those who had never seen anything like it, but it turns out this object would not stay “unidentified” for long. What they were actually witnessing was a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch at 5:42 that morning, and a special atmospheric phenomenon that could be seen across the state and as far north as Savannah.
Sometimes, rocket launches that occur half an hour to an hour before sunrise produce what is known as a “twilight phenomenon”, in which exhaust particles from a launch’s vapor trail condense, frees, and then expand in the upper atmosphere as it becomes less dense. The resulting exhaust plume reflects high altitude sunlight in the still-dark sky and creates a massive, colorful display for anyone watching from the ground.
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So next time you hear about an early morning rocket launch, look in the sky and you, too, might be able to catch this awesome sight.