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SpaceX rocket launch stuns East Coast skywatchers

Under clear skies, the event made for epic views across the Mid-Atlantic

A SpaceX rocket carrying four astronauts that launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla., could be seen near Charlotte on April 23. (Video: Brad Panovich)
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A much-anticipated rocket launch dazzled Friday morning, when skywatchers from the Florida Peninsula to the Mid-Atlantic were treated to an epic display of engineering marvel and natural beauty.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla., at 5:49 a.m. Friday, carrying four astronauts bound for the International Space Station. It marked the first time a rocket booster — dubbed B1061 by SpaceX — was reused to transport humans to space.

A rocket launch, shooting stars and the space station? Big sky show Friday morning in Southeast, Mid-Atlantic.

The four astronauts are slated to arrive at the International Space Station on Saturday after a period of orbiting and docking.

The launch prompted many to venture outdoors before dawn Friday in hopes of catching the spectacle. Last month, on March 14, a similar launch carrying a payload of five dozen Starlink Internet satellites captured similar attention after producing a mesmerizing display.

This time, bright skies illuminated by nautical twilight washed out much of the rocket’s plume when viewed north of the Mid-Atlantic. Farther south, where the sky was darker because of a later sunrise, the sunlit rocket plume stood emblazoned against the contrast of a deep azure sky.

Brad Panovich, chief meteorologist at the NBC affiliate in Charlotte, captured the launch using cameras and his home’s Nest cam. It made for an otherworldly, alien-like sight as it raced across the morning sky.

Chris Jackson, a storm chaser based in South Carolina, got an equally stunning shot, even managing to photograph what appears to be the booster returning to Earth.

Friday morning featured expansive clear skies across much of the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast, a rarity during the month of April. Dry, crisp air behind Wednesday’s cold front made for opportune viewing.

The same type of Falcon 9 heavy rocket has been used dozens of times in the past several years to carry payloads to space. Starlink, a broadband Internet service, is working with SpaceX to launch thousands of small satellites in an attempt to bring “near global [Internet] coverage to the populated world” by late 2021.

Some watchers even managed to snag a view of the International Space Station, too. It flew over the East Coast shortly before 5:15 a.m.

Check out these views from across the Mid-Atlantic and the Southeast:

Correction: The first version of this article wrongly stated that the rocket plume was washed out in areas south of the Mid-Atlantic because of an earlier sunrise compared to areas to the north. At this time of year, sunrises actually occur earlier in the north than the south. As such, the plume was less visible to the north than it was to south. The paragraph describing where the plume was most and least visible was modified.