Delta Junction, AK
Nikon D850 with 12mm
6s, ƒ/2.8, ISO 5000
An illuminated blue whirlpool sails through the aurora and over Donnelly Dome near Delta Junction, Alaska, on April 15, 2023 at 1:54 am.
What is it?! Trust me, at first I was totally bewildered! The shock of seeing this spiral-shaped apparition first appear on the northern horizon moving straight toward me and growing rapidly, until seven minutes later when it faded to the south, was one of the most bizarre experiences of my life. It wasn’t until two hours later when the auroras stopped dancing that I had time to research what the heck I’d seen.
Turns out this phenomenon can be explained with rocket science. A SpaceX Transporter-7 mission that had launched southward on the Falcon 9 rocket three hours earlier from Vandenberg, California had sent a second stage rocket on a polar orbit to deploy its payload of 51 satellites. When finished, the second stage engine did some additional burns and perhaps jettisoned excess fuel while deorbiting. Water vapor in the exhaust froze into ice crystals and spiraled outward into grandiose arcs and became illuminated by high-altitude sunlight causing the bluish-white glow. Physicists say it may take as little as a few gallons of water to create this.
This all happened as it passed over Alaska during a beautiful aurora display, stunning many night-watchers including myself. That short, mysterious moment in time when I witnessed the most bizarre thing I’d ever seen is what I’ll always remember.... the wondrous feeling of the unknown.
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!