Rocket Contrails

I love to see Rocket contrails in the sky.  What’s that? you ask.  Under the right circumstances, after a rocket launches, you may see an interesting artifact in the sky.

“Most rockets can produce a kind of contrail as the combustion of the [fuel] (especially if they are hydrogen+oxygen fueled) will produce a lot of water. But for many rockets there is also a lot of visible smoke.  It’s not always visually clear what is smoke, and what is water. When they get very high up, the trail spreads out and is lit by the sun in unusual ways.  You see this a lot with the missile tests in California.  You could call this a contrail if you wanted, so long as you note it’s a rocket contrail, and so contains smoke.” ~Contrail Science

You can see rocket contrails primarily during morning or evening launches when the sky seems dark yet the rising or setting sun lights up the plume from the rocket exhaust.

There’s nothing quite like catching sight of a rocket contrail.  The first time I saw one, I was in Arizona and it was a (very early) morning launch from Vandenberg Airforce Base in Southern California.  I called and woke up an astronomy buddy of mine just to find out what the heck I was seeing, I was so excited.

If you are anywhere near a launch site and there is a launch in the morning or in the evening, take a look outside, you might see something interesting!

There are several ways to learn when a rocket will launch.  I’ll delve into that in a future post!

*This is a Kid Friendly Activity
*Any Age
*No Cost

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8 Responses to Rocket Contrails

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  3. i am impressed by your work.

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  5. Minouch says:

    Secret chemical dirpassel?One might as well attribute lightning to Thor. It is funny though to watch people invent explanations for natural phenomena.The process is fascinating. Even though anyone who is both sane and familiar with atmospheric physics and chemistry can tell you exactly why some contrails persist longer than others, that doesn’t stop people who have no idea what they’re talking about coming up with absurd theories.Now, I know, that is where science began, but so did every religion. At least science has a method for verification.

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