A New Zealand resident spotted a “weird but very cool” blue spiral above her home following a SpaceX launch on Sunday June 19.
Clare Rehill photographed the spiral in the sky above Queenstown, a city in New Zealand’s South Island. She job (opens in a new tab) the photo on Twitter early in the morning his hour Monday (June 20), speculating that “it has something to do with SpaceX”.
His instincts were good. The spectacle from the sky came courtesy of a two-stage SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, which launched from the Cape Canaveral space station in Florida on Sunday at 12:27 a.m. EDT (0427 GMT), carrying a communications satellite for the company Louisiana-based Globalstar in orbit.
The spiral was generated by the upper stage of Falcon 9, and Rehill was not the only one filming its activities.
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Jarred Wood from Illinois took this video (opens in a new tab) during the satellite’s orbital insertion, showing a “smoke ring” over the prairie state. (He shared it with Spaceweather.com (opens in a new tab)who gave permission to host it here on Space.com.)
“The smoke ring Wood saw was the ‘puff’ of separation,” wrote the website’s astronomer Tony Phillips. (opens in a new tab). “At the time, the rocket was more than 1100 km [680 miles] high, so people could see it in much of North America.”
As for the spiral seen in New Zealand, the galaxy-like feature was due to the Falcon 9’s upper stage venting leftover fuel as it naturally fell into the Pacific Ocean. (Unlike the Falcon 9 first stage, which lands after launch to be refurbished and reflown, the rocket’s upper stage is expendable.)
“The upper stage probably rotated on its longest axis to stabilize the orientation of flight, hence the spiral shape,” Spaceweather.com wrote. (opens in a new tab). “Similar spirals have been observed after previous Falcon 9 launches.”
@Alasdair_Burns saw this beautiful rocket exhaust spiral in the sky over Stewart Island tonight #space #SpaceX #New Zealand pic.twitter.com/Gv2XpcK3IiJune 19, 2022
SpaceX launches have also produced other pretty patterns in the sky. In May, for example, a Falcon 9 launch of the SpaceX Starlink internet satellites produced a “space jellyfish” in the predawn sky above the Florida Space Coast.
This phenomenon occurred because the gas in the rocket engine nozzles was at a higher pressure than the surrounding air; the rising sun, just below the horizon, then illuminated the plume, said Chris Combs, a professor of aerodynamics and mechanical engineering at the University of Texas at San Antonio. on Twitter (opens in a new tab).
SpaceX’s Globalstar launch was the third in about 36 hours for the company. The company launched 53 Starlink satellites Friday (June 17) from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and a radar satellite for the German military from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California Saturday (June 18).
Editor’s note: If you captured a stunning view of the SpaceX launch and want to share it for an image gallery or story, let us know! You can send pictures and comments in firstname.lastname@example.org.