Check Out The Mysterious Spiral That Appeared In Alaska's Amazing Aurora Friday Night

hero spiral aurora borealis alaska
A strange spiral spotted over Alaska, which some described as an alien spaceship or a portal to an alternate universe, actually has a fairly mundane explanation. The spiral was made even more spectacular as it accompanied an aurora borealis late Friday night into early Saturday morning.

Reports of the strange spiral began pouring in on social media late Friday night. As many tried to figure out what the eerie sight in the sky was, a few were already aware of the cause. AuroraHunter posted the image, and explained that the phenomenon appeared to be from "rocket engine exhaust from a SpaceX Transporter-7 mission that launched on the Falcon 9 about three hours earlier in California."

"Water vapor in the exhaust from the second stage engine freezes and catches high-altitude sunlight, effectively glowing and creating this spiral galaxy of a display," explained Don Hampton, a research associate professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute, in an email to the Anchorage Daily News. He added that as the rocket gained altitude, "it did this pass-by over Alaska, stunning many night-watchers."

Todd Salat, who took the top image, said solving the mystery was not nearly as satisfying as the spooky spiral was initially. He remarked, "The spiral, it was so perfect. It was beautiful. It was kind of a shame to think of it as exhaust." The gorgeous aurora only added to the enigma of the eerie spiral.

Those who researched the spiral over Alaska in order to figure out its origins more than likely came across other sightings in places like Hawaii, Norway and New Zealand. The Norway sighting in 2009 is believed to have come from a Russian missile test, while the more recent sighting in Hawaii is thought to have been caused by a SpaceX Falcon 9 upper stage rocket.

William Dimpfl, a senior research scientist at the Aerospace Corporation, explained that the bluish color is "from solar fluorescence from chemicals in the plume. That's just aluminum oxide that the sunlight is scattering from." He added, "Aluminum oxide is the chemical formula for sapphires, so what you're looking at is sunlight scattering off lots of tiny sapphires."

AuroraHunter concluded its Facebook post about the spooky spiral, stating, "p.s. for pointer stars - see the Big Dipper near the top end of the spiral? 'Spill out of the dipper' and the last two stars point to the North Star to the right. This really is galactic!"