Home » World » What’s behind the ‘bizarre’ lights seen across New Zealand’s sky? – World news

What’s behind the ‘bizarre’ lights seen across New Zealand’s sky? – World news

What’s behind the ‘bizarre’ lights seen across New Zealand’s sky? – World news
Rocket plume seen across New Zealand on Sunday night

Shaun Rolston/Stuff

Rocket plume seen across New Zealand on Sunday night

An unusual, spiralling plume of gas and light across the night sky from Nelson all the way to Stewart Island has left sky watchers speculating, but experts says there’s a very simple explanation.

South Island residents in large numbers took to social media and tip lines on Sunday night to report seeing the eye-catching phenomenon.

Among them was Alasdair Burns, 34, who runs a star-gazing business on Steward Island. He said it was by far the strangest thing he’d seen in the night sky.

“It was absolutely bizarre. It was like a massive spiral. And it very, very slowly, serenely moving north across the night sky and then just sort of dissipating as it went,” he said.

But Richard Easther, a physics professor at the University of Auckland, said spiral was really the illuminated plume of a rocket.

“They are ‘clouds’ created by the exhaust plumes of the rocket, which would have been illuminated by the sun,” he said.

“It’s similar to the effect you sometimes see at sunset when the setting sun lights up the underside of high clouds.”

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The spiral appeared in the sky at around 7.20pm, and was quickly posted in star-gazing social media groups.

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Māpua local Augustine Matthews, 54, ran onto the deck to watch it with her husband.

“It looked like a planet or star. It was just a white dot with a tiny spiral. And within 10 minutes it had traversed half the sky and the spiral had grown three times in size,” she said.

Matthews said was it “really beautiful” to watch it move across the sky.

“It wasn’t blinking or twinkling, and it was moving fairly fast… so fascinating,” she said.

According to Easther, it’s plausible the rocket was Space X’s Global Star Mission, which launched earlier on Sunday and passed over New Zealand.

However, he said the rocket’s flight path would needed to be compared to confirm.

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