US rocket launch sparks Australia UFO frenzy

June 5, 2010

A bright spiralling light, believed by astronomers to be a rocket launched from Cape Canaveral, was spotted in skies across Australia's east coast just before dawn Saturday, sparking a UFO frenzy.

Described by some witnesses as a "lollipop-type swirl", the cloud of light was seen over the country's three easternmost provinces -- New South Wales, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory -- shortly before sunrise.

"It had a distinct bright centre, much like a bright star ... (with) trails spiralling and fattening out from it," Canberra resident James Butcher told broadcaster ABC of the spectacle, which he said lasted two or three minutes.

Other witnesses likened the spectacular phenomenon, footage of which was quick to hit the Internet, to a "huge revolving moon" with a swirl in the middle, or an illuminated cloud moving high and fast above the horizon.

"It certainly had that lollipop-type swirl ... but it was travelling low and fairly fast, and as it went past me and I looked up, it looked like a row of lights, maybe four lights," one Brisbane resident said.

Astronomer Andrew Jacob, acting curator of the Sydney Observatory, said it was most likely SpaceX's Falcon 9 , launched Friday from shortly before dawn broke over Australia.

"It fits best, a rocket travelling overhead with something venting out of it, fuel venting out of the motor," Jacob told AFP.

"The rocket's probably tumbling or spinning a little which creates a spiral effect, a little like water coming out of a hose when you spin it. That's the best explanation I have so far, probably the most likely one."

The light was travelling the wrong way for it to be an astronomical phenomenon, and Jacob said he had ruled out other possibilities such as comets, a spotlight on cloud or reflection of the moon, or a .

He said the timing was right for the SpaceX rocket to have travelled over the , Africa and the Indian Ocean and be in skies over Australia at the time the spiralling light was seen.

The fact that it could be seen over such a broad area meant whatever caused the flare had to be very high in the atmosphere or in orbit above the Earth, Jacob added.

"All the information points to this rocket," he said.

The launch of the privately owned Falcon 9 test rocket marked a milestone for the space industry in the race to develop commercial carriers capable of ferrying cargo and astronauts to the orbiting International Space Station.

Explore further: Rocket's re-entry lights up two states

Related Stories

Rocket's re-entry lights up two states

January 4, 2007

A Russian rocket that broke up re-entering Earth's atmosphere over the United States had ferried a French telescope into orbit, U.S. military officials said.

Recommended for you

First detection of lithium from an exploding star

July 29, 2015

The chemical element lithium has been found for the first time in material ejected by a nova. Observations of Nova Centauri 2013 made using telescopes at ESO's La Silla Observatory, and near Santiago in Chile, help to explain ...

New names and insights at Ceres

July 29, 2015

Colorful new maps of Ceres, based on data from NASA's Dawn spacecraft, showcase a diverse topography, with height differences between crater bottoms and mountain peaks as great as 9 miles (15 kilometers).

'Bathtub rings' suggest Titan's dynamic seas

July 28, 2015

Saturn's moon, Titan, is the only object in the Solar System other than Earth known to have liquid on its surface. While most of the lakes are found around the poles, the dry regions near the equator contain signs of evaporated ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

PhysicsLver21
1 / 5 (1) Jun 06, 2010
was it the falcon 9 or not... dun dun duunnnnnnn the government at its best.. cover up

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.