News Sci/Tech SpaceX Rocket's Glowing Spiral Lights Up Arctic Skies
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SpaceX Rocket's Glowing Spiral Lights Up Arctic Skies

By Harry Baker | Published on March 12, 2024

A celestial spectacle unfolded in the Arctic skies last week, as a dying SpaceX rocket painted a mesmerizing cosmic swirl amidst the vibrant Northern Lights. This ethereal phenomenon, known as a "SpaceX spiral," emerged from the rocket's final moments, leaving astronomers and skywatchers in awe.

The Birth of the Galactic Glow

On March 4, at 5:05 p.m. EST, SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket from the Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. The rocket carried 53 satellites for various commercial space companies, successfully releasing them into low-Earth orbit. But it was the rocket's second stage, already separated from the reusable first-stage booster, that stole the show.

As the second stage began its descent, it jettisoned its remaining fuel into space. These frozen fuel crystals dispersed in a spiral pattern, reflecting sunlight back to Earth. The result? A luminous, galaxy-shaped light show that briefly outshone the surrounding auroras.

Photographers Capture the Enchanting Display

Aurora photographer Shang Yang immortalized the SpaceX spiral near Iceland's town of Akureyri. Against the backdrop of the Northern Lights, the celestial swirl appeared otherworldly, captivating viewers for approximately 10 minutes before fading away.

Notably, SpaceX spirals are becoming more frequent as the company's launches increase. In April 2023, a striking blue spiral photobombed an aurora display above Alaska. The phenomenon has also graced the Subaru Telescope's lens on Hawaii's Mauna Kea, leaving astronomers both fascinated and concerned about the impact of megaconstellations on celestial observations.

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