In less tumultuous times, more people might have enjoyed the display.

In the early morning of 18 January early-risers were treated to a rare display of nature and technology in the form of clouds which appeared to be swirling like smoke and glowing in colors of red white and blue.

As the above tweet from WeatherNews explains, this phenomenon was caused by the launch of the Epsilon-3 Rocket. At 6:06, the rocket took off from Uchinoura Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture and place the ASNARO-2 radar satellite in orbit by 7 a.m.

The Epsilon-3 was planned to launch earlier but delayed due to bad weather conditions. However, it was the lingering moisture in the air which contributed to this elaborate display of contrails over Kyushu.

While the rocket itself travels upwards in a rather steady arc, the zigging and zagging of the resulting clouds is due to a few factors. The main reason is the separation of the three rocket stages which are discarded and fall back down to Earth once they’ve exhausted their propellant.

Winds, the weight of ice crystals, and the viewpoint of the observer can further cause the contrail to appear to be moving in strange directions. The final touch of colors are courtesy of the rising sun.

▼ A time-lapse shot of the launch

While many were in awe of this example of humanity’s achievement, others were unsettled by rockets flying around leaving unfamiliar patterns in the sky.

“It looks like god’s graffiti.”
“Very pretty…”
“Unbelievable!”
“That scared me! I thought it was God coming down.”
“So is Japan playing with ICBMs too now?”
“But I saw a fighter jet contrail too…”
“I was wondering what that was. Thank God now I know.”

There were also some who thought it might have been an example of the “jishin kumo” or “earthquake cloud” theory in which strange cloud formations are considered precursors to seismic activity.

▼ “Good morning, there’s some kind of strange clouds out there. Is it an earthquake cloud?”

Sadly, it’s just not as great a time for rockets around here as it used to be. Something about getting woken up in the early morning with warnings of incoming nuclear missiles a few times will do that to a country.

Source: Twitter/@wni_jp, JAXA, Sankei News
Feature image: Twitter/@wni_jp
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