A mysterious blue spiral travelling across New Zealand’s skies baffled onlookers who thought it had alien origins – but experts say the cause was much closer to Earth.
The spiralling plume of gas lit up the sky over Nelson, a city at the tip of New Zealand’s south island, and travelled 750km south to Stewart Island by about 7.30pm on Sunday.
South island residents discovered the bizarre astronomical phenomenon was caused by man-made space junk – a dying rocket launched by Elon Musk’s SpaceX company.
The mysterious spiral travelled through the night sky over New Zealand’s south island at about 7:30pm on Sunday (pictured)
SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Globalstar DM15 satellites on Sunday morning – the third rocket flight in 36 hours.
As the rocket released its payload it spun and vented fuel, which caused a vapour trail that reflected sunlight. The illuminated plume of the rocket created the visible blue swirl.
The New Plymouth Astronomical Society said a fuel dump was the most likely cause of the eye-catching spiral.
‘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 Facebook post read.
‘Similar effects have been seen before, and SpaceX’s Globalstar 2 FM15 was likely to have passed New Zealand around that time.’
The stunning blue spiral was an extraordinary sight for thousands of New Zealanders despite its man-made origins.
South Island star-gazers discovered the glowing swirl (pictured) was caused by a dying rocket launched by Elon Musk’s SpaceX company
Stewart Island star-gazer Alasdair Burns said the spiral was by far the strangest thing he had ever seen.
‘It was absolutely bizarre. It was like a massive spiral. And it very, very slowly, serenely moving north across the night sky and then just sort of dissipating as it went,’ Mr Burns told Stuff.
Māpua local Augustine Matthews said she ran outside to watch the spiral with her husband.
‘It looked like a planet or star. It was just a white dot with a tiny spiral. And within 10 minutes it had traversed half the sky and the spiral had grown three times in size,’ she said.
‘It wasn’t blinking or twinkling, and it was moving fairly fast… so fascinating.’