SpaceX Rocket Causes Moon to Ripple in Photographer’s Fantastic Image

SpaceX rocket moon

A photographer captured a thundering photo of a Falcon Heavy SpaceX rocket passing in front of the Moon — making the edges of Earth’s satellite look as if they’re rippling.

Steven Madow’s photo was years in the making and took extensive, precision planning that saw him rock up in a “random parking lot” in a small city close to the John F. Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Rocket going past the Moon
Madow’s first attempt in late 2022.
Falcon 9 blasting past the Moon
Another failed attempt in February 2023 of a Falcon 9 rocket.

Madow had made attempts to get the photo in late 2022 when the Artemis mission blasted off to go around the Moon and again in February 2023 when he was close but no cigar. But on December 28, 2023, Madow nailed the shot.

“For the planning, I realized a day or so before the launch that Moonrise was about 40 minutes before the launch,” Madow tells PetaPixel.

“A Moon right on the horizon would make a shot like this easier to plan since the rocket wouldn’t be as high up. The higher it goes, the more challenging it is to understand the trajectory and line it up with the Moon.

“So, to get an idea of where to stand, I started off with TPE (The Photographer’s Ephemeris) and roughly lined up where the Moon would be compared to the launchpad.”

Planning the shot on The Photographer’s Ephemeris.

“From there, I was able to input some trial GPS coordinates into a platform called This website is normally used to plan long exposure nighttime launch photos (like this one that was previously featured on PetaPixel),” he continues.

“It’s easy enough — input your location, your focal length, and the launch, and it will simulate how the rocket streak will look!”

Flight Club screenshot
Planning the shot on Flight Club.

“However, in addition to planning the long exposure shot, with some more advanced usage, it is possible to input an extreme focal length and use the prediction to line things up with the Moon,” he says.

“All of this coming together required the math behind this program to be precise. It’s incredibly challenging for the developer to get it right to this level of accuracy because he is limited to public data.

“And in the case of this launch, nothing was in our favor. It was a brand new trajectory that this rocket had never flown, a top-secret Space Force launch (meaning less data available), and the Moon was relatively high up.

“On top of all that, the available locations where things could line up were either not accessible (not public land) or had tons of trees that could block the Moon.”

SpaceX Rocket Blasts Past Moon
The winning shot taken on December 28.

Despite all the hurdles, the shot worked out. The Moon rose above the tall trees just five minutes before the launch and when it perfectly crossed the lunar surface Madow says he screamed with joy at the top of his lungs.

Madow set up four cameras in total across several hundred feet of latitude. Three of them were filming video with only one getting a great shot (see GIF below) where the air disturbance is clearly visible.

Rocket cross the moon gif

To capture the photo, Madow used a Panasonic LUMIX G9 II with a PanaLeica 100-400mm lens (at 400mm) and the shutter set to 1/1000 — the photo is just one single exposure.

“I shot on my fastest burst mode (14 frames per second) and tested the buffer to know how long I could shoot. This camera was just released in late 2023 and it performs extremely well in this regard,” he says.

“Everything was locked down on fully manual settings (including focus). I decided to underexpose for the Moon by a stop or two and figured that the rocket would be nicely silhouetted.

“Amazingly, many people think that it was faked and that makes me like it even more. It is one of my least processed images and I was so happy to pull it off as a single shot.”

What Causes the Moon to Ripple?

Madow’s photo was selected as NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day; the space agency explains that the Moon ripples because of pockets of hot air emitted from the rocket deflecting moonlight less strongly than the pickets of cool air.

The rocket in the photo was part of the USSF-52 mission with the Falcon Heavy rocket carrying the X-37B — the U.S. military’s secretive X-37B robot spaceplane. The Boeing-built vehicle, roughly the size of a small bus and resembling a miniature space shuttle, is built to deploy various payloads and conduct technology experiments on years-long orbital flights.

More of Madow’s work can be found on his website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Image credits: Photographs by Steven Madow.