Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Delta II Rocket Spotted from Orange County

December 14, 2009 by  
Filed under Articles, Featured, News

Self portrait minutes after I saw the Delta II launch

Self portrait minutes after I saw the Delta II launch

I’ve always wanted to see the shuttle lift off in Florida, but that will probably never happen.  So this year I’ve been trying to spot a rocket launch here in California.

As you may know Vandenberg AFB is home to NASA’s west coast launch pad. And according to Brian Webb’s website we should be able to see the rocket launches during the twilight and nighttime hours here in Southern California.

Well today I saw it and it was very cool! This was my third attempt at trying to see some artifact from the launch while at home here  in Lake Forest Orange County. There was a big difference this time: the launch was at dawn. All the other times were in the daylight, or at some other ungodly hour. I was not yet committed enough to this quest to justify going out in the middle of night to see something, since I did not even know if it was possible. The last time I tried was during the day, and I saw nothing. However somebody reported that they saw something up in the mountains in Big Bear California.

It was fairly clear with some fog/haze towards the horizon this morning. I started looking right around launch time (6:09 a.m.) and saw nothing as expected. Three  minutes went by and I looked around again and I noticed a faint helicopter looking light flying low from the Northwest area. I almost dismissed it, but I picked up my 10X50 binoculars just in case and pointed them that way. That’s when I saw the FIRE coming out of the ROCKET. Holy smokes it’s the rocket! No I did not see much detail, but I saw a small object with fire shooting out of the back of it. I was shocked. In fact I was not expecting to see that at all. I thought I would only see cool smoke plumes or something like that.

The rocket continued on a low fly by and all of a sudden the smoke plum started to show. The rocket was growing fainter as the smoke plum grew and became brighter. The smoke was totally visible to the naked eye at this time. It looked like a regular cloud as far as brightness, but in shape it was long and swirly. A few seconds later the smoke stopped and I could not really see the fire anymore, the rocket just looked like a satellite at this point. The smoke appeared to stop and then reappeared as another stage of the engine went off. I did not see fire, but saw more smoke. It then faded fast as it got lower to the SouthWest Horizon. It was at that time that I took out my camera and tripod and fired some shots of the smoke (click image below).

Ahhh that was a cool moment: to actually be able to see something lifting off to outer space!  I think what helped inspire me was a few months ago the shuttle was going to land here in the West. I heard or read somewhere that you might be able to hear the sonic boom. I set my watch and went outside. I told my neighboors that if they hear a loud boom that it was the shuttle crossing the sound barrier. They gave me some weird looks, but a few minutes later we all heard the boom and we all were excited.

So get out your binoculars, cameras and ears and do some astronomy. With just my eyes I have (and you can too) see the space station, the shuttle, a rocket launch, and Iridium Flares. Here are some resources that will guide the way:

Smoke from the Delta II launch 12-14-09

Smoke from the Delta II launch 12-14-09

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