Residents of Hawaii were in for a surprise when a mysterious spiral was spotted in the skies early morning on January 18th. The spiral was captured by the Subaru-Asahi Star Camera, which is operated by the Mauna Kea Observatory in Hawaii. The observatory’s timelapse video shows the spiral emerging as a dot in the left corner of the view, before ejecting an arc-like feature and eventually forming into a spiral in the sky.
Many were left wondering what could have caused this strange phenomenon, but the answer was soon revealed. The spiral was a result of a SpaceX launch that delivered a Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) into space for the U.S. Space Force on the same day. The Subaru Observatory was quick to confirm the connection in a tweet, saying, “The spiral seems to be related to the SpaceX company’s launch of a new satellite.”
The spiral shape is likely formed from the upper stage of the Falcon 9, which vents out unneeded fuel during its descent into the ocean. Spaceweather.com reported that the upper stage was probably spinning on its longest axis to stabilize flight orientation, hence the spiral shape. “Similar spirals have been seen after previous Falcon 9 launches,” the report said.
SpaceX has been conducting an average of one launch every week into low Earth Orbit. The company, led by Elon Musk, conducted 61 launches of the Falcon-9 and Falcon-Heavy rockets in 2022 alone. This latest launch, accompanied by the spectacular spiral in the skies, serves as a reminder of the constant progress and innovation taking place in the world of space exploration.