Rocket Exhaust Plumes

September 26, 2013

Click to see animation

Photographer: Steed Yu
Summary Author: Steed Yu; Jim Foster

The photo shows rocket exhaust plumes as observed from my campsite in eastern China, near Yanqing, about 60 mi (95 km) northwest of Beijing. Click on photo for animation. It was taken on September 1, 2013, at 4:20 am local time (20:20 UTC). Note the two bright blobs flying over my tent. These are plumes from a Zenit-3SLB launch vehicle and a DM-SLB upper stage that were launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, approximately 2,600 mi (4,180 km) west of my position. This launch delivered the Israeli communications satellite, Amos 4, into orbit.

Because the exhaust trails can extend high into the stratosphere and mesosphere, they become deformed as winds at different levels vary in direction and velocity. They seldom if ever resemble the trail that took shape just after launch. The altitude of the exhaust trails allows them to remain sunlit well after the Sun has set at ground level or in this case, well before the Sun has risen. Note that the nearly stationary red region behind the plumes is also associated with the launch.