Camera captures night sky spiral after SpaceX rocket launch
HONOLULU — A camera on top Hawaii‘s tallest mountain has captured what appears to be a spiral swirling through the night sky.
Researchers believe it came from the launch of a military GPS satellite previously placed on a SpaceX rocket in Florida.
The images were captured Jan. 18 by a camera on top of Mauna Kea outside Japan’s Subaru Telescope National Astronomical Observatory.
A time-lapse video shows a white sphere spreading out and forming a spiral as it moves through the sky. It fades and then disappears.
Ichi Tanaka, a researcher at the Subaru Telescope, said he was doing other work that night and didn’t see it right away. Then a stargazer watching the live stream from the camera YouTube sent him a screenshot of the spiral via an online messaging platform.
“When I opened Slack, I saw that and it was an overwhelming event for me,” said Tanaka.
Last April, he saw a similar spiral, also after a SpaceX launch, but it was bigger and weaker.
SpaceX launched a military satellite from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on the morning of Jan. 18.
The spiral’s location matched where the SpaceX rocket’s second stage was expected to be after launch.
SpaceX did not respond to an email sent Friday seeking comment.
Tanaka said the observatory installed the camera to monitor the environment outside the Subaru telescope and to share Mauna Kea’s clear skies with the people of Hawaii and the world.
Someone looking at the sky in less bright conditions, say from Tokyo, may not have seen the spiral, he said.
The live stream is jointly managed with the Asahi Shimbun, a major Japanese newspaper, and regularly attracts hundreds of viewers. Some tune in to watch meteors streak across the sky.
Mauna Kea’s summit has some of the best viewing conditions on Earth for astronomy, making it a favorite spot for the world’s most advanced observatories. The summit is also considered sacred by many native Hawaiians who consider it a place where the gods live.
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