Alachua County EMWIN Project

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Monday, April 5, 2010

STS-131 Launched - But Scary-looking On Way Up...

That was the most spectacular shuttle launch I ever saw. Got it all on video tape; but something VERY odd happened after SRB-sep.

Sometime after SRB-sep, and right about the time the shuttle reached the apparent apex of it's ascent, a cloud appeared. Soon after that, the shuttle turned into a huge, bright "comet-like" object speeding across the sky. I've been watching and photographing the shuttle for MANY years, and I've NEVER seen anything like THIS before. It had a bright center, and a HUGE bright tail following behind it even as it headed to the horizon.

It scared me to DEATH because I thought the shuttle had exploded or something sometime post-SRB-separation. It actually frightened me.

I taped as much as I could of the "cometary" part of it's ascent in "night mode" on my camera (which has less resolution, but catches more light).

On the way home, I turned on the radio and there was NOTHING ABOUT IT. After some time, eventually there were some stations which carried comments from I-75 watchers who also commented on the strange-but-spectacular view; but STILL there were no news stories of any explosions or astronaut lives lost. "What the hell?" I said to myself. This was so different. I was SURE an explosion had occurred during the ascent, and I kept whispering to myself, "I hope they were able to abort out of this one." It looked THAT BAD.

I got home, turned on the TV...STILL nothing!

According to the news, and to the Shuttle web site, the shuttle made it to orbit just fine. There are no comments about the comet-like appearance.

So now I'm wondering if this is actually an effect that is always there, but USUALLY NOT VISIBLE because...the one different thing about this launch was that it occurred while the sun was rising but still below the horizon - by about 45 minutes or so, yet. The sun lit the circular plume at the apex of the ascent, and made it "glow" in an iridescent manner. Perhaps the sun also lit the spent Main Engine fuel vapors or something on ascent? (Can any other shuttle photographers out there reading this confirm this for me?)

I've photographed/taped a LOT of shuttle launches and I have NEVER seen anything like this before.

I'm going to wait for the progression of the day and keep an eye on the news stories and NASA sites to see if there is some explanation for the ascent weirdness, but I will DEFINITELY upload my video as soon as I can. I want to get it to TV-20 as well. I have to DL it from the camera, edit it, then I'll upload it. It might take a while though. Don't expect to see the video online until sometime mid to late afternoon or so.

Look for it at .

UPDATE: 11:00 AM

This morning's launch was for sure the most spectacular shuttle launch I think I've ever seen - barring actually seeing one go up from the Banana River on-site at the Cape.

I think I was right about the effect being something always there, just not visible because it's not usually illuminated from underneath like it was, this morning. As Francisco Reyes of the UF's Astronomy Department put it:

"I got a good part of the effect after the separation of the Solid Rocket that you describe. It was a conbination of the sun lighting the gases from the shuttle main engine and I think it is also the compression of gas in the atmosphere due to the supersonic shock. But I will wait for the NASA experts to explain the effect. It was an amazing view, as you said, the best of all the shuttle launch."

I would have to agree. And the small round cloud at the apex of the ascent was iridescently illuminated. It looked like it was lit from within the way that the sun was hitting it. It was quite cool. I took a number of shots of it in various modes.

So, I think we've solved the mystery of the awesome plume.

For those of you who weren't able to get yourselves out of the bed in time, I'm at this moment uploading the video to the web site

I have a relatively slow connection, though. So it'll probably take it a couple of hours to finish. It's about 200MB large. (I'm putting up the best-resolution version. It'll download a heck of a lot faster than it takes me to upload it, I promise.)

So, the astronauts made it safely to orbit and they will soon be meeting their friends aboard the ISS. (Which also makes it's appearance in the video that I'm uploading. I also happened to catch Jupiter in there, too, low on the eastern horizon. :) Quite a fascinating morning both astronomically and spaceflightically! ...Yah, yah. I know. I invented a word, there. LOL.)

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