Bizarre 'Whirlpool' Appears in Hawaii's Night Sky

Strange sight apparently caused by launch of a SpaceX rocket
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 31, 2023 8:55 AM CST

A telescope in Hawaii captured the strangest of sights: an unearthly-looking whirlpool of light spinning in the night sky. (See for yourself in this video.) Alas, Live Science quickly obliterates the magical mystery: "It turns out the stunning spiral was comprised of frozen rocket fuel that was ejected during a SpaceX launch." Yes, Elon Musk's company launched a Falcon 9 rocket that day from Cape Canaveral in Florida, and the after-effects showed up over Hawaii. The Washington Post, citing an online forum for space enthusiasts, notes the phenomenon has happened before. The result has been dubbed "SpaceX spirals."

The Hawaii sighting occurred on Jan. 18, and it was picked up by the Subaru-Asahi Star Camera, which is mounted on a dormant Hawaiian volcano. The first tweet about the image came from the operators of the telescope, which is co-owned by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan and the news agency Asahi Shimbun. As the BBC explains, the image first appeared as a dot before morphing into the whirlpool-like formation. SpaceX sent up its rocket that day in order to launch a new GPS satellite. Once the satellite was safely away, the rocket ejected its remaining fuel before returning to Earth, and the frozen fuel crystals were illuminated by sunlight, per Live Science. (More Hawaii stories.)

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