Back in January 2023, the night sky above Hawaii was lit up with a mysterious corkscrew-like spiral seen from as far away as Maui. Witnesses were unsure of what was happening and speculation ran rampant throughout the islands. That is, until it was revealed that the phenomenon was likely caused by a SpaceX rocket launch.
The Unexpected Sighting
People in Hawaii saw an unexpected sight in the night sky. A glowing pattern resembling a spinning spiral appeared at around 8 PM local time and slowly moved across the heavens in the general direction from east to west. Witnesses looked on in awe and curiosity, not knowing if they were seeing something man-made or some kind of natural celestial event like a comet or meteor shower.
What SpaceX Had To Say About It
Shortly after the strange occurrence, officials from SpaceX confirmed that one of their Falcon 9 rockets had indeed launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California just minutes before the spiral formation began appearing over Hawaii. This served to explain why so many people saw the mysterious sight—the rocket had launched into space against a clear evening sky with excellent viewing conditions on both sides of the Pacific Ocean.
What Caused The Light?
For those unaware of SpaceX’s activities, this strange pattern may have seemed like nothing short of a miracle or mystery sent down from some unknown force. But for those familiar with Elon Musk’s company and its mission to expand humanity’s reach into space, it was very likely that his rocket was responsible for this beautiful display across two oceans and one night sky.
The technical explanation behind this amazing spiraling light show is actually quite simple: it is caused by exhaust particles created during rocket launches diffracting light into different colors. The particles look like streaks when illuminated by sunlight during daytime launches but can take on more intricate shapes when reflected off of clouds at dusk or nighttime launches like this one.
In particular, these patterns can form perfect complex spirals due to an effect known as “aerodynamic twisting,”—which causes air currents around the exhaust plume to spin faster than normal when moving through higher altitudes.
But regardless of how it is explained scientifically, there is no denying that what people witnessed over Hawaii last Sunday evening was nothing short of extraordinary—a marvel that only serves to remind us how far humanity has come in exploring space since our first tentative steps just decades ago.
For some lucky spectators, it will remain forever etched in their memories as an awe-inspiring moment they will never forget—and hopefully inspire others to dream even bigger dreams about space exploration in years to come.