The mysterious spiral was seen in the sky around 7.30pm on Sunday in New Zealand’s South Island
Spirals of sparkling neon blue lights have appeared in the sky, confusing and delighting those who saw it.
The hazy blue lights looked like a small galaxy forming in the sky, noted people in New Zealand who watched as the rare formation appeared on Sunday evening.
The strange sights led to a flurry of reports and confusion on social media, as people looked for explanations of what was powering the twisting lights.
Soon after, the source of the display was revealed: a SpaceX rocket letting out fuel soon after it had launched.
Locals in Queenstown, Auckland and Motueka had posted the photos on Twitter and Facebook, asking if anyone knew what the strange appearance in the sky was.
Reported to be brighter in some parts of the Pacific, the spiral was also seen in Fiji, Samoa, New Caledonia and the small island of Tokelau, reportedNew Zealand Herald.
The photos showed the dark evening sky heavily filled with stars and the blue spiral in between with multiple arms.
“Looks like a rocket spinning out of control,” said social media user Evan McKay on Facebook.
Local astronomy groups on social media were abuzz with people sharing photos from across the Island.
Putting the curiosity of locals to rest, the country’s New Plymouth Astronomical Society confirmed that the occurrence in the sky was not a suspicious alien activity but rather a phenomenon caused by human activities after the SpaceX rocket launch.
“The ‘spiral’ that was seen in the sky tonight around 7.30pm was most likely a “fuel dump” or “exhaust plume” from a SpaceX rocket launch,” the cohort said on Facebook in a post.
It added: “Similar effects have been seen before, and SpaceX’s Globalstar 2 FM15 was likely to have passed New Zealand around that time.
“It is shown in the video below passing South of NZ just over an hour into its flight which would have been around 5:30, and would probably have passed again around 90-120 minutes later which would then have been around 7:30.”
This was corroborated by SpaceX, which has staged three successful Falcon 9 launches over the weekends, pushing out a total of 55 satellites into space.
One of the users asked the society about why does the rocket dump fuel, to which the group said that there is an explanation of why fuel is dumped after rocket stage separations.
“The reason it is done is for safety; to minimise the risk of an explosion of the vehicle, which in turn, would create a large amount of space junk, or orbital debris that would then put other space vehicles in danger. At such a high altitude, the fuel is dissipated quickly and poses no environmental threat to the Earth,” the New Plymouth Astronomical Society said.
Lodging the historical record of three missions by a commercial launch company, SpaceX has managed to send off its Globalstar communications satellite into orbit on Sunday.
“SpaceX hauled a Globalstar communications satellite into orbit early Sunday from Cape Canaveral, pulling off the third Falcon 9 rocket flight in 36 hours, the fastest sequence of three missions by any commercial launch company in history,” said space activity tracker on social media Spaceflight Now.