The sky is truly a strange and unusual place. We often look to the sky to ponder over our life or just to see what unusual things it has to offer.
Depending on the part of the world where you live, you may be able to see anything from the moon to the stars or even an occasional space launch. If you live in Alaska, you have the benefit of seeing the aurora borealis.
Recently, photographer and aurora borealis hunter Todd Salat was out looking at the northern lights in Fairbanks, Alaska and he saw something unusual. He took pictures of it, and it sparked some interest.
The pictures, which Salat shared on Facebook, featured a bright spiral surrounded by the northern lights. What was even stranger about the spiral was that it was moving.
In speaking with the Anchorage Daily News, he said it was getting “bigger and bigger.” For about five minutes, he photographed what he called a beautiful piece of art in the sky until it was directly overhead.
As you can imagine, he was baffled by the spiral and said it was the most bizarre thing he had seen in his life. He also was not the only one to see it.
Moving about 100 miles to the northeast in Kotzebue, a remote Arctic community, a midwife also saw the spiral. Elizabeth Withnall took to Facebook to share about it and said there are a lot of unusual phenomena in the sky that far north, but this was something different.
After some investigation, they found out that the object was man-made. A SpaceX Transporter-7 mission had launched on the Falcon 9 from California three hours earlier. Professor Don Hampton of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute made the connection and shared about it in a blog post.
The launch took place north of Los Angeles at Vandenberg Space Force Base. It was launched just before midnight and when the two-stage booster rocket was in the process of being retrieved, it caused the phenomena.
Hampton said in the blog post: “Water vapor in the exhaust from the second stage engine freezes and catches high-altitude sunlight, effectively glowing and creating this spiral galaxy of a display…it did this pass-by over Alaska, stunning many night-watchers.”
It’s nice to have the answer, even if it’s less magical than we’d hoped.