ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Aurora lovers were in for a surprise as green bands of light danced across the Alaskan sky: A bright blue star-like vortex appeared for a few minutes in the middle of the aurora borealis.
Saturday morning’s cause is more mundane than an alien invasion or the appearance of a portal to the edge of the universe. It was excess fuel delivered by a SpaceX rocket that launched from California about three hours before the vortex appeared.
Sometimes rockets need to be jettisoned, said astrophysicist Don Hampton, associate research professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Institute of Geophysics.
“When they do it at higher altitudes, that fuel turns into ice,” he said. “If it happens in sunlight, when you’re in the dark on Earth, you can see it as a big cloud, and sometimes it moves around.”
Although it’s not common, Hampton said he’s seen similar incidents three times.
The vortex’s appearance over time was captured and widely shared by the Geophysics Institute’s all-sky camera. “It took the Internet by storm with that spin,” Hampton said.
Northern Lights photographers also posted their photos on social media.
A rocket carrying about 25 satellites lifted off from the Vandenberg Space Force Base in California on Friday evening.
It is a polar launch that is visible across much of Alaska.
The timing was perfect to see Fuel Dump Alaska. “We have this really cool spinning thing,” he said.
Although it looks like a galaxy passing through Alaska, he says it isn’t.
“I can tell it’s not a galaxy,” he said. “It’s water vapor that reflects sunlight.”
In January, another vortex was observed on the Big Island of Hawaii. A camera on Mauna Kea outside the Subaru Telescope at Japan’s National Astronomical Observatory captured a swirl in the night sky.
Researchers said it was the result of a military GPS satellite launched on a SpaceX rocket in Florida.
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