People in South California had a surprising sight on Friday evening, Dec. 22. A slim, brightly lit cloud formed in the evening sky behind what looked like a comet.
Local media was barraged with calls and social media posts reported the strange phenomenon, considered a UFO by many.
It was, in fact, a multistage Falcon 9 rocket developed by SpaceX and launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Barbara County.
— Kacey Montoya (@kaceymontoya) December 23, 2017
The rocket launched successfully and carried into orbit 10 Iridium Next commercial communications satellites. This was already the fourth batch of Iridium satellites, as the company is replacing its network of low-orbit satellites with 81 new ones.
Aside from data and voice communications, Iridium also hosts on its new satellites an aircraft and ship surveillance systems that will, upon the network’s completion, cover the whole planet. Even now the satellites already tracking a large share of aircraft equipped with compatible transponders. Publicly accessible flight tracking websites like FlightAware, Flightradar24, and OpenSky Network already use the surveillance data.
The twilight effect from a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched Friday from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California carrying 10 Iridium voice and data relay satellites into orbit put on quite a light show. This view is from US Hwy 101 and Padaro Lane in Carpinteria. pic.twitter.com/tcDjPDLsrN
— SBCFireInfo (@EliasonMike) December 23, 2017
Many Californians, however, were apparently oblivious to this information and stared at the sky in wonder, as the rocket rose through the atmosphere.
— Burbank Police (@BurbankPD) December 23, 2017