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Rocket contrail
The contrail left behind by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch looked like a giant fish in the skies over Southern California. (Elon Musk via Twitter)

The bloom of exhaust that blossomed in Southern California’s skies during Friday evening’s liftoff of a Falcon 9 rocket sparked jokes and jitters — with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk joining in.

Was it an alien visitation? A North Korean rocket attack? A stunt involving Santa’s sleigh?

Folks who were following the launch of 10 Iridium NEXT satellites from Vandenberg Air Force Base at sunset knew full well what it was: a rocket booster’s contrail, catching the last rays of sunlight high above the California coast.

But for a while there, it was a mystery to unaware residents in Los Angeles, San Diego and locales in between. Such displays, including the infamous “Norway Spiral” of 2009, often spark UFO reports. Here’s a sampling from Twitter showing how Friday’s UFO sighting played out:

Update for 1:35 p.m. PT Dec. 23: Here’s a particularly nice video from SpaceX engineer Scott Gauer, posted on Facebook:

Update for 1:50 p.m. Dec. 26: This dashcam video shows a three-car pile-up taking place on a Southern California freeway when drivers got distracted by the launch spectacle. It’s a good reminder for drivers to keep their eyes on the road, even if it looks as if aliens are attacking. For more about the accident, check out the reports from KABC and Jalopnik.

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