I was fortunate to see another spectacular launch from Vandenberg Space Force Base on Christmas Eve morning. I typically check the launch listing sites every few days to keep track of when the next launch will be. These are listed weeks or even months ahead of the launch date–although the dates can and do change. There are exceptions to this advance posting: certain top-secret satellites are often announced with only 24 hours notice. The SARah 2 & 3 satellites had this abbreviated announcement.
Fortunately, I happened to check the updated schedule about 12 hours before launch so I was able to make preparations for viewing it.
The launch was scheduled for 0611 MST (0511 PST) on the morning of December 24. I went north of Flagstaff to the San Francisco Volcanic Field.
The launch was on time at 0611 MST and about a minute later I was able to see the rocket as it rose above the horizon. I wasalso able to photograph the first stage separation. A few minutes later the high-level clouds appeared once the rocket had ascended high enough to be illuminated by the Sun–which was still well below the horizon at my location.
Here are a few photographs of the launch plus a time-lapse video that shows the dramatic expansion of the high-altitude cloud from the rocket exhaust.
SpaceX/Falcon 9 launch of the SARah 2 & 3 satellites.
The next launch is in a week but may be too late in the evening to catch the last light of twilight.
Time lapse of thunderstorms developing near Wupatki National Monument.
Once again I traveled to Wupatki National Monument to photograph thunderstorms and lightning–and even the Moon.
Thunderstorms had generated several outflow boundaries and two of these boundaries converged and produced new thunderstorms to the southeast of Wupatki NM. The top image and time-lapse video shows the developing thunderstorms along with an appearance of the waxing Moon.
Thunderstorms had also formed on the mesas and plateaus of northeast Arizona earlier in the afternoon and were moving to the west and southwest. These storms would likely arrive in the vicinity of Wupatki NM by late afternoon and early evening. Of note, the high-resolution weather forecast models indicated that the storms would dissipate as they moved across the lower elevations of the Little Colorado River valley. I was more optimistic based on the afternoon radar and satellite data.
These storms continued to move westward and generated a weak haboob–the second in two days in this area. The thunderstorms also generated plenty of lightning as they moved across the San Francisco volcanic fields.
After a few days of little or no thunderstorm activity things picked up a bit on Tuesday. Moisture pushed just a bit farther west than the past couple of days allowing storms to form near and north of Flagstaff.
Late in the afternoon I was in Wupatki National Monument and shooting storms to the west and southwest over the San Francisco Volcanic Field. The storms had been fairly weak during much of the afternoon but became more electrically active just before and after sunset.
And now the forecast models show another down period of at least a few days. Glad I was able to get some nice photos today.