Interplay of Rocket Exhaust and its Reflection on Water

June 02, 2021



Photographer: Michael Seeley 

Summary Authors: Michael Seeley; Jim Foster

Shown above is a 195-second exposure of the launch of a SpaceX Falcon9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida. It was taken at 4:28 a.m. (local time) on March 24, 2021. I chose my viewing position specifically to have water in view of the camera since I thought it would be glassy enough to mirror the launch and the rocket’s exhaust. As it turned out, the water, though not rough, was gently rolling, creating the curious squiggles in the foreground that caught my attention. This is something I hadn’t previously observed. The exhaust's reflection on the water is known as a glitter path. Like all such paths, it's composed of quickly moving points of light darting over the water's surface. However, the "squiggles" are akin to moon circles that can only be seen when the water surface is rippled. I find the interplay between the water and the rocket exhaust to be quiet mesmerizing.