Here’s What a Rocket Launch Looks Like from Space

The Soyuz TMA-20M spacecraft at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in 2016.
The Soyuz TMA-20M spacecraft at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in 2016.
NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

There are approximately 7.5 billion humans on the planet. Of those, fewer than 550 have had the opportunity to look down on Earth from space. Fewer still have had the opportunity to glimpse a rocket launch from above. But now we all can, thanks to new satellite footage of a Soyuz rocket taking flight.

The folks at Planet Labs have a lofty goal: to take new pictures of the Earth from space every day. To do this, the company stows its miniature Dove satellites aboard sky-bound missions in the U.S., India, and Asia. The rockets go up and the satellites detach, hanging in the black and snapping pictures like paparazzi lurking in the dark outside a pop star's mansion.

Like celebrity photographers, the little satellites depend on both strategy and luck to get great images. Recently, one Dove was in the right place at just the right time: above Kazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome, right when a new Soyuz rocket was zooming into the air.

Planet scientists realized the impending photo opportunity just five hours before the launch was to occur. With some speedy calculations, they were able to aim the Dove's orbiting cameras at the launch, then compress the footage into the exhilarating 11-second time lapse here.

The footage of a rocket launch shot by satellites launched aboard rockets is even more self-reflexive than it sounds; the rocket in the video above is actually carrying more imaging satellites.

Team members were thrilled with the images. "The results are pretty cool," Planet's Vincent Beukelaers wrote on the company blog. "We've captured some spectacular imagery over the last few years, but these launch shots of the Soyuz are some of my personal favorites."

Friday’s Best Amazon Deals Include Digital Projectors, Ugly Christmas Sweaters, and Speakers

As a recurring feature, our team combs the web and shares some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. Here’s what caught our eye today, December 4. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers, including Amazon, and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

3D Map Shows the Milky Way Galaxy in Unprecedented Detail


It's our galactic home, but the Milky Way contains many mysteries scientists are working to unravel. Now, as The Guardian reports, astronomers at the European Space Agency have built a 3D map that provides the most detailed look at our galaxy yet.

The data displayed in the graphic below has been seven years in the making. In 2013, the ESA launched its Gaia observatory from Kourou in French Guiana. Since then, two high-powered telescopes aboard the spacecraft have been sweeping the skies, recording the locations, movements, and changes in brightness of more than a billion stars in the Milky Way and beyond.

Using Gaia's findings, astronomers put together a 3D map that allows scientists to study the galaxy in greater depth than ever before. The data has made it possible to measure the acceleration of the solar system. By comparing the solar system's movement to that of more remote celestial objects, researchers have determined that the solar system is slowly falling toward the center of the galaxy at an acceleration of 7 millimeters per second per year, The Guardian reports. Additionally, the map reveals how matter is distributed throughout the Milky Way. With this information, scientists should be able to get an estimate of the galaxy's mass.

Gaia's observations may also hold clues to the Milky Way's past and future. The data holds remnants of the 10-billion-year-old disc that made up the edge of the star system. By comparing it to the shape of the Milky Way today, astronomers have determined that the disc will continue to expand as new stars are created.

The Gaia observatory was launched with the mission of gathering an updated star census. The previous census was conducted in 1957, and Gaia's new data reaches four times farther and accounts for 100 times more stars.

[h/t The Guardian]