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Mysterious spiral of light spotted in North caused by SpaceX rocket, physicist says

A mysterious swirl of light seen in the night sky over parts of Alaska, the Yukon and the NWT over the weekend was so strange and impressive to those who saw it that it even briefly eclipsed the aurora borealis.

However, the spectacular phenomenon has a very earthly explanation. it was apparently a cloud of unspent fuel from a SpaceX rocket.

“We had no idea what was happening. “Oh my God, are we seeing a UFO or what’s going on,” recalled Talia MacDonald, who spotted it Saturday morning on the remote Dempster Highway in northern Yukon.

“It was a bit scary because it was just us on the highway.”

MacDonald and his partner were driving north towards Inuvik, NWT, around 3am on Saturday when they saw it. They were near Eagle Plains, Yukon at the time, and MacDonald was suddenly awakened by his partner who was driving the car.

“He said. “You have to watch this because I feel like I might be hallucinating,” MacDonald said.

“Paul thought he had slipped because at that point he had been driving for about seven hours straight.”

He was not hallucinating. Macdonald also saw a striking sight, a spiral of bright bluish-white light that briefly seemed to grow stronger and stronger before disappearing. McDonald imagines it was visible for maybe two minutes. That was long enough for them to stop their car and take a few pictures.

A bright swirl can be seen in the night sky on a snowy road in the mountains.
“It was a bit scary because we were the only ones on the highway,” MacDonald said. (Talia McDonald)

They wondered if it was somehow related to the northern lights, which MacDonald said were going “pretty wild” at the time.

The SpaceX rocket, says a physicist

But according to University of Alaska physicist Don Hampton, it had nothing to do with the aurora borealis. He says the bright spectral swirl has a more terrestrial origin: a SpaceX rocket.

SpaceX is a private company that designs, builds and launches rockets and their payloads into space. It was founded in 2002 by tech billionaire Elon Musk.

Hampton was asleep when the vortex was spotted in parts of Alaska, but the next day he heard about it from Alaskan aurora watchers. He also saw pictures that were taken the University’s Aurora Camera At the Poker Flat Research Range.

“I’ve seen a few of these before, so I figured it had to be a start,” Hampton said.

It didn’t take him long to realize that a few hours earlier a SpaceX rocket had launched from a base in California and would be in its second orbit over Alaska around the time people saw the spiral.

“So once I saw it, I said, yeah, that’s probably it,” Hampton said.

He explains the spiral as unused fuel vapor escaping from the rocket and visible under the right conditions.

“Very often, when they’re done with their mission, they actually kind of eject part of their engine. And when it’s out in space and the sun shines on it, you can see it in the sky if you [in the] it’s dark on the ground,” Hampton said.

“So we were in the right place at the right time in Alaska to be able to see it.”

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