A swirling whirlpool appeared in the night sky above Hawaii earlier this month leaving researchers astonished.
A camera at the summit of Mauna Kea, outside the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan’s Subaru telescope recorded the bizarre event — which is being pinned on Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
A timelapse video first shows a white orb floating in the starry sky, it unfolds into a beautiful spiral before fading to black.
A researcher working at the observatory as the whirlpool flew overhead was initially unaware of what had unfolded because he was busy with work. Ichi Tanaka was alerted to the celestial presence by a stargazer watching the camera’s livestream on YouTube, the observer sent Tanaka a screenshot of the unidentified object.
SpaceX Rocket Fuel
The whirlpool was spotted on January 18, the same day SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral to deploy a GPS satellite into a medium-Earth orbit for the U.S. Space Force.
Experts believe the phenomenon was linked to frozen rocket fuel that was ejected during the rocket’s launch.
After the first stage of the launch, which provides the main propulsion for lift-off, the rocket is separated from the payload-carrying second stage around three minutes after launch and eventually returns to the Earth.
After separating from the first stage, the second stage uses its engine to propel itself into position to deploy the satellite after which any remaining fuel is ejected before re-entry. This second stage means the rocket is spinning before deorbiting and falling back down to Earth.
As noted by Spaceweather.com, the result was the dazzling whirlpool of frozen fuel crystals in the shape of a spiral.
The summit of Mauna Kea provides some of the finest viewing conditions on Earth for astronomy which is why the observatory installed the livestream camera to monitor the surroundings outside the Subaru telescope.