We are very familiar with airplane contrails across our Carolina blue skies, but how about rocket trails?
Rocket launches are spectacular. A sunrise or sunset launch can produce an incredible light show when rocket trails become illuminated in high altitude sunlight.
This twilight phenomenon is formed when unburned fuel particles and water condense, freeze and expand across the very thin upper atmosphere. These trails extend high into the stratosphere and mesosphere where they are high enough to remain sunlit long after the sun has set back on the surface of the Earth.
The particles and droplets diffract sunlight and produce vivid iridescence, pink, blue, green and orange colors.
High altitude winds twist and bend the trails across the sky and carry them hundreds of miles from the launch site catching some viewers off guard. They have often been mistaken for failed rocket launches or unidentified flying objects.