A Rocket Launch From Above

Rocket launches often produce spectacular imagery, but it’s rare to get a launch view quite like this one. The photograph above shows the recent launch of an Atlas V rocket as viewed from the International Space Station. The rocket itself is too small to be seen directly. Instead, that bright spot you see is the rocket’s exhaust. The smoky swooping curves mark the rocket’s exhaust plume. Because the gases leaving the rocket are at much higher pressure than the scant air pressure in the upper parts of the atmosphere, the exhaust expands rapidly, ballooning outward. Here the water vapor in the exhaust has frozen into crystals that catch the sunlight and make them stand out against the surrounding sky. (Image credit: NASA; via NASA Earth Observatory)

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