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image credit: Pat McCracken, NASA

why would the shadow of a space shuttle launch plume point toward the Moon ?

in early 2001 during a launch of Atlantis, the Sun, Earth, Moon, and rocket were all properly aligned for this photogenic coincidence

first, for the space shuttle's plume to cast a long shadow, the time of day must be either near sunrise or sunset

only then will the shadow be its longest and extend all the way to the horizon

finally, during a Full Moon, the Sun and Moon are on opposite sides of the sky

just after sunset, for example, the Sun is slightly below the horizon, and, in the other direction, the Moon is slightly above the horizon

therefore, as Atlantis blasted off, just after sunset, its shadow projected away from the Sun toward the opposite horizon, where the Full Moon happened to be