SpaceX launched its 18th and final mission of 2017, sending a Falcon 9 rocket out of Vandenberg Air Force Base and into the California sky. The white tail of the rocket was an unusual sight, leaving many in Southern California who did not know a rocket launch was occurring confused, with some even speculating it was a UFO. Now, a spectacular 40-second time-lapse of the Falcon 9 has been posted by photographer Jesse Watson.
Watson lives in Yuma, Arizona, and according to PetaPixel had been following SpaceX launches for some time. Though this latest launch was held at Vandenberg Air Force Base, 400 miles away, he says it was “perfectly viewable” from where he lives in Yuma.
He had never shot a rocket before, but used The Photographer’s Ephemeris, a map-centric sun and moon calculator, as well as Google Maps to figure out where to set up his shots. Because he was working on estimated knowledge, Watson used four cameras and five lenses at four different locations, with three of the cameras rolling time-lapse and one rolling telephoto video.
“I wanted to be prepared to capture comprehensive coverage of the spectacle,” Watson explains of the project. “I was a little off target on my initial shot, but… I was able to crop into the 6K time-lapse sequence and salvage the framing.” In all, Watson shot 2,452 images and condensed that into 1,315 images for the time-lapse. The final result shows both the rocket and the curling tail of gas it leaves behind from multiple angles in a remarkable and beautiful clip.