Space oddity: The exhaust plume from one of Elon Musk’s SpaceX rockets leaves a strange blue spiral in the night sky over New Zealand
- The fuel dump from one of Elon Musk’s space rockets lit up New Zealand’s skies
- As the rocket spun to vent its fuel, it caused a vapor trail that reflected sunlight
- Creating a spectacular blue swirl above Nelson – a town at the tip of the South Island
- The Falcon 9 rocket carrying satellites was SpaceX’s third launch in 36 hours
One of Elon Musk’s rockets gave New Zealanders a spectacular sight this weekend – when it emptied its fuel and created a brilliant blue whirlwind in the night sky.
The exhaust plume was from a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster that had just blasted a satellite into space, although some thought it might have an extraterrestrial connection.
As the rocket spun to vent its fuel, it created a vapor trail that reflected sunlight and produced a visible blue swirl that eyewitnesses said moved “serenely” across the night sky.
One observer said it “looked like a huge spiral galaxy, just hanging there in the sky, and slowly drifting through it.”
The plume lit up the sky over Nelson, a town at the tip of New Zealand’s South Island, and traveled 466 miles (750 km) south of Stewart Island around 7:30 p.m. Sunday.
‘Fascinating’: One of Elon Musk’s rockets gave New Zealanders a spectacular sight this weekend – when it emptied its fuel and created a brilliant blue whirlwind in the night sky (pictured)
South Island astronomers have found the bright swirl (pictured) was caused by a SpaceX rocket spilling its fuel
Stewart Island astronomer Alasdair Burns said the spiral was by far the strangest thing he had ever seen.
‘It was absolutely weird. It was like a huge spiral. And it moves very, very slowly, serenely north in the night sky and then dissipates as it goes,” he told Stuff.
“We quickly knocked on the doors of all our neighbors to get them out as well.
“And so there were about five of us, all outside on our shared veranda, looking up and kind of, well, kinda freaking out.”
Māpua resident Augustine Matthews said she ran outside to watch the spiral with her husband.
“It looked like a planet or a star. It was just a white dot with a little spiral. And in 10 minutes it had crossed half the sky and the spiral had tripled in size,” she said.
“It wasn’t flickering or flickering, and it was moving pretty fast…so mesmerizing.”
It was the company’s third launch in just 36 hours, following Friday’s launch of 53 of its Starlink internet satellites from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and a radar satellite for the German military from the Vandenberg. Space Force Base in California on Saturday.
“The spiral that was seen in the sky tonight around 7:30 p.m. was most likely a fuel dump or exhaust plume from a SpaceX rocket launch,” the New Plymouth Astronomical Society wrote in a Facebook post.
“Similar effects have been observed before, and SpaceX’s Globalstar 2 FM15 was likely to have passed New Zealand at that time.”
The two-stage rocket was launched Sunday morning from the Cape Canaveral space station in Florida.
It was carrying a communications satellite for Louisiana-based company Globalstar, which SpaceX said deployed about 1 hour and 50 minutes after launch as scheduled.
After sending out its payload, the Falcon 9 began venting its fuel, while the rocket’s first stage returned to Earth for a vertical landing on SpaceX’s droneship.
It was the company’s third launch in just 36 hours, after lifting off from 53 of its Starlink Internet satellites Friday from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and the Saturday launch of a radar satellite for the German military from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Globalstar DM15 satellite on Sunday
ELON MUSK’S SPACEX IS BRINGING HIGH-SPEED INTERNET TO THE WORLD WITH HIS CONSTELLATION OF STARLINK SATELLITES
Elon Musk’s SpaceX has launched more than 2,000 of its “Starlink” space internet satellites into orbit and hopes to have 12,000 in the sky by 2026.
They form a constellation designed to provide low-cost, high-speed Internet service from low Earth orbit.
Although satellite internet has been around for a while, it has suffered from high latency and unreliable connections.
Starlink is different. SpaceX has said its goal is to deliver high-speed, cable-like internet around the world.
Musk has previously said the company could give three billion people who currently don’t have internet access an inexpensive way to get online.
It could also help fund a future city on Mars.
Helping humanity reach the Red Planet has been one of Musk’s long-standing goals and what inspired him to launch SpaceX.
Musk’s rival, Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, also plans to launch a constellation of satellites into low Earth orbit to provide broadband access to remote areas, as part of his Kuiper project.
However, astronomers have raised concerns about light pollution and other interference caused by these satellite constellations.