A strange cloud formed after a rocket launch and mystified those who saw it

Before dawn on September 2, an Atlas V rocket took off from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The launch was a complete success, but it left behind a strange, colourful, and oddly-shaped plume hanging in the sky — a departure from the typical narrow, cylindrical cloud left behind by other rocket launches:

Keep scrolling to see some of the amazing photos taken by Florida residents, many of whom were taken aback by the sight.

'Something's coming down from whatever that is,' a concerned woman named Chastaly said in a video she filmed and sent to CNN affiliate Central Florida News 13.

Another woman named Cecille Rodriguez wrote a Facebook message to the station saying, 'I honestly thought that aliens were coming to Winter Park! Lol #justkidding.'

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But what caused the cloud to look like this?

According to a post on SpaceWeather.com, this tear-drop shaped plume resulted from the rocket creating a thin, wispy, man-made cloud called a noctilucent cloud. These types of clouds, which hover in the air like Dementors from Harry Potter, are also called 'night shining' clouds.

'Water vapour in the rocket's exhaust crystallised in the high atmosphere, creating an icy cloud that turned blue when it was hit by the rays of the morning sun,' the post on SpaceWeather.com says. 'Years ago, space shuttle launches produced similar displays.'

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Central Florida News 13 meteorologist Maureen McCann said in a video that the cloud's incredible illumination likely came from the pre-dawn sun.

McCann also notes that the plume looks narrow at the surface but more spread out at the top. That's probably because strong winds high up in the atmosphere dispersed the plume there.

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Check out more beautiful images of the launch on Twitter and Instagram.

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