Las Vegas and Phoenix were treated to a rare atmospheric lightshow on Thursday morning.

Early-morning carousers in Las Vegas and Phoenix were treated to a rare atmospheric lightshow on Thursday morning. Twisting in the sky like entwined astral slugs, the contrails from a pair of military rockets hovered for several minutes while changing colors in the rays of the rising sun.

The weird sight which initially had been misreported as a plane crash or a burned-up meteor was caused by a U.S. Army test that was visible over much of the Southwest. Around 6 a.m., staff at Fort Wingate near Gallup, New Mexico, launched a hulking Juno rocket into the chilly skies. Then the folks at White Sands Missile Range in southern New Mexico unleashed a "Patriot Advanced Capability 3" missile to intercept it. They met, explosions resulted, and presumably there was lots of cheering on the military bases.

The water vapor in the rockets' exhaust quickly froze in the high-altitude environment, producing the wondrous wakes you see in the above (admittedly badly shot) video. Here are a few more views of the rare event:

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A toxic site in Niagara Falls, New York, seen from above.
    Environment

    The Toxic 'Blank Spots' of Niagara Falls

    The region’s “chemical genies” of the early 20th century were heralded as reaching into the future to create a more abundant life for all. Instead, they deprived future generations of their health and well-being.

  2. A Soviet map of London, labeled in Russian.
    Maps

    The Soviet Military Secretly Mapped the Entire World

    These intricate, curious maps were supposed to be destroyed. The ones that remain reveal a fascinating portrait of how the U.S.S.R. monitored the world.

  3. Equity

    The Story Behind the Housing Meme That Swept the Internet

    How a popular meme about neoliberal capitalism and fast-casual architecture owned itself.

  4. Design

    Is This Red, White, and Blue Elephant Worth Saving?

    Illinois politicians agree that Chicago’s Thompson Center should be replaced. Architects and preservationists beg to differ, and a new documentary presents their case.

  5. Transportation

    Europe's Intercity Bus Juggernaut Is Rolling Into the U.S.

    Flixbus is like the Uber of long-haul road travel. Could it reboot the American coach business?