A man photographing the northern lights in Alaska captured something in the sky that left him “totally bewildered.”
Up there amid the aurora borealis he set out to capture, Todd Salat noticed “an illuminating gyre in the sky” over the Donnelly Dome near Delta Junction just before 2 a.m. on April 15.
Salat posted a stunning image he captured of the phenomenon on his Facebook page, where he’s known as the “Aurora Hunter.”
The photo shows what appears to be a baby blue galaxy or spiral in the night sky over the dramatic green backdrop of northern lights. It almost looks like it could be a portal to another dimension.
“This was a first,” he wrote in the post’s caption, adding that he didn’t know what it was at first. “After doing some online research, this phenomenon appears to be rocket engine exhaust from a SpaceX Transporter-7 mission that launched on the Falcon 9 about three hours earlier in California.”
Indeed, it was excess fuel being released from that very launch, the Associated Press reported.
The phenomenon was also captured by the Geophysical Institute’s all-sky camera at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, the outlet reported. Research associate professor and space physicist Don Hampton explained that the fuel turns into ice at high altitudes.
“If it happens to be in the sunlight, when you’re in the darkness on the ground, you can see it as a sort of big cloud, and sometimes it’s swirly,” he told the Associated Press.
This isn’t the first time stargazers have spotted a baby blue jet spiral in the sky.
In January, astronomers spotted a similar whirlpool in the night sky over Hawaii, McClatchy News previously reported.
The rocket that brewed this latest spiral launched from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California on April 14 with “25 satellites as its payload,” the Associated Press reported.
“It did a pass-by over Alaska, stunning many night-watchers including myself,” Salat said in the post. “Trust me, at first, I was totally bewildered… and I kind of enjoyed that feeling of the unknown.”
He points out the Big Dipper near the top of the spiral in the photo.
“‘Spill out of the dipper’ and the last two stars point to the North Star to the right,” he said. “This really is galactic!”
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