A New Zealand resident saw a “bizarre but very cool” blue spiral over her house after a SpaceX launch on Sunday (June 19).
Clare Rehill photographed the spiral in the sky over Queenstown, a city on New Zealand’s south island. She posted (opens in new tab) the photo on Twitter early in the morning of her time Monday (June 20), speculating that “it has something to do with SpaceX.”
Her instincts were good. The cloud show came with permission from a two-stage SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, which was launched from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on Sunday at 12:27 EDT (0427 GMT), with a communications satellite for the Louisiana-based company Globalstar to orbit . .
The spiral was generated by Falcon 9’s upper stage, and Rehill was not the only one to capture the activities on camera.
Related: SpaceX’s Starlink mega constellation is launched in images
Jarred Wood from Illinois took this video (opens in new tab) during the satellite’s orbital insertion, showing a “smoking ring” over Prairie State. (He shared it with Spaceweather.com (opens in new tab)who gave permission to host it here on Space.com.)
“The smoke ring Wood was a ‘puff’ of separation,” wrote the site’s astronomer Tony Phillips (opens in new tab). “At that time, the rocket was more than 1100 km [680 miles] high, so people could see it over large parts of North America. “
In the case of the spiral seen in New Zealand, the galaxy-shaped function was due to the fact that the upper stage of the Falcon 9 aired out remnants of fuel as it fell naturally into the Pacific Ocean. (Unlike the first stage of the Falcon 9, which lands after launch for refurbishment and after-flight, the upper stage of the rocket is usable.)
“The upper step probably rotated on its longest axis to stabilize the flight orientation, hence the helical shape,” wrote Spaceweather.com (opens in new tab). “Similar spirals have been seen since previous launches of Falcon 9.”
@Alasdair_Burns saw this beautiful rocket coil in the sky over Stewart Island tonight #space #SpaceX #NewZealand pic.twitter.com/Gv2XpcK3IiJune 19, 2022
SpaceX launches have also produced other beautiful patterns in the sky. In May, for example, a Falcon 9 launch by SpaceX Starlink Internet satellites produced a “space jellyfish” in the sky before dawn over Florida’s space coast.
This phenomenon occurred because the gas in the rocket’s engine nozzles had a higher pressure than the surrounding air; the rising sun, just below the horizon, then illuminated the cloud, explained Chris Combs, professor of aerodynamics and mechanical engineering at the University of Texas at San Antonio. on Twitter (opens in new tab).
SpaceX’s Globalstar launch was the third in about 36 hours for the company. The company launched 53 Starlink satellites on 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 on Saturday (June 18).
Editor’s note: If you took a great view of the SpaceX launch and want to share it for a photo gallery or story, let us know! You can send photos and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.