Yowza! Mysterious bright light stuns Californians after SpaceX rocket launch

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An unusual bright light over Palm Springs is believed to be the light from the Space X rocket launched from Santa Barbara.
Kate Franco/The Desert Sun

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — A flash of bright light in the skies over California had social media buzzing Friday afternoon, but don’t fret, it’s wasn’t an alien attack. And although seen from the desert, nothing was said about three wise men traveling about.

All indications are that the light came from the launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that took off from Vandenberg Air Force Base near Santa Barbara. 

Many in the desert took to Facebook and Twitter to show images of the bright white light that illuminated the clouds over the San Jacinto Mountains. 

Even space entrepreneur extraordinaire Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, had some fun with the spectacular sight, taunting the Twitterverse with a video and something about a “nuclear alien UFO from North Korea.”

SpaceX began tweeting around 5 p.m. PT about the launch, which was aired live on its website. Falcon 9 launched around 5:30 p.m., according to tweets from the SpaceX Twitter account.

More: Elon Musk accidentally tweeted his phone number

Related: SpaceX capsule back at space station with pre-Christmas haul

Around 5:45 p.m., the engine cut off and the stage separation was confirmed; the second stage engine burn was underway. But that didn’t stop residents across Southern California from tweeting about the light show.

Less than 10 minutes after that, the second stage engines cut off and the satellites went into coast phase.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket delivered 10 satellites to low-Earth orbit for Iridium, a company focused on data satellite communications, according to a SpaceX press release.

This launch carried the fourth set of 10 satellites out of 75 total satellites that will form Iridium’s “next generation global satellite constellation,” called Iridium NEXT.

The satellites were deployed from the rocket about an hour after the initial launch.

SpaceX did not attempt to recover Falcon 9’s first stage of the rocket after launch, as it has done after launches from Cape Canaveral in Florida.

Iridium NEXT plans to replace the world’s largest commercial satellite network of low-Earth orbit satellites for a “tech upgrade.”

Iridium is a communications company that says it hopes to deliver “fast speeds and higher throughputs for…aviation, maritime, Internet of Things, terrestrial and government organizations,” according to a press release.

The company said it aims to improve aircraft tracking and surveillance systems. When the full satellite system is completed, Iridium said it hopes air traffic control companies and aircraft operators will purchase its service, which will provide real-time, global visibility of aircraft that are equipped with automatic dependent surveillance — broadcast technologies.  

We’ll leave you with this photo taken by Jefferson Graham, USA TODAY’s own tech guru.

Follow Nicole Hayden on Twitter: @nicoleandpig

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