Most of us associate Southern California with Hollywood, beaches, and sunny weather. However, with relatively cold waters offshore and typically higher pressures over the Pacific Ocean, there is essentially a competition between air rising from the surface and sinking air further up in the atmosphere. The rising air and sinking air meet in the lower atmosphere to form a marine layer—typically low-altitude stratus clouds.
This marine layer often manifests as a thick, rolling fog at Vandenberg Air Force Base, a two- to three-hour drive northwest along the Pacific coast from Los Angeles. This means rocket launches from Vandenberg often end in disappointment for expectant viewers. This occurred most recently with the Atlas V rocket launch of NASA’s Mars InSight lander a few weeks ago, which people could hear, but not see.
However, Tuesday’s conditions at Vandenberg were relatively clear, and this provided some of the best viewing opportunities in recent memory for a rocket launch. As a result, some of the photos of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket launch are both striking and, in some ways, novel. As ever, we can’t resist staring at photogenic rocket launches.