Stargazers Awestruck After Mysterious Spiral Appears In Northern Lights

Clare Fitzgerald
Photo Credit: IRENE STACHON / Lehtikuva / AFP / Getty Images
Photo Credit: IRENE STACHON / Lehtikuva / AFP / Getty Images

Those looking up at the night sky on April 15, 2023 were treated to a unique and potentially unsettling sight when an unidentified spiral appeared in the middle of the Northern Lights. While many speculated the phenomenon was related to extraterrestrials, it has since been confirmed that the answer is actually more straightforward.

Northern Lights shining over a snowy field
Photo Credit: IRENE STACHON / Lehtikuva / AFP / Getty Images

Those living in Alaska, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories reported seeing a pale blue spiral within the magnificent green of the light show – scientifically known as the Aurora Borealis – for just a few minutes in the early morning hours. While they were initially confused as to the cause of the strange sight, the virality of the photos soon allowed the answer to become known.

Just three hours prior, the SpaceX Transporter-7 rocket took off from Vandenberg Space Force Base, California, carrying between 25-51 satellites. While those on the ground weren’t seeing the rocket in orbit, they were looking at the excess fuel it had released.

Speaking with the Associated Press, space physicist Don Hampton, a research associate professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute, explained that rockets sometimes need to jettison their extra fuel, resulting in a spectacular sight on the ground.

“When they do that at high altitudes, that fuel turns to ice,” he said. “And 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 sometime it’s swirly.”

Northern Lights shining over a lake
Photo Credit: OLIVIER MORIN / AFP / Getty Images

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According to Hampton, the phenomenon isn’t all that common. The last recorded instance was noted over Hawaii in January, when a camera positioned outside of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan‘s Subaru telescope caught footage of the sight.

That launch, also by SpaceX, took place at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, with scientists confirming that the appearance of the spiral coincided with where the rocket was believed to have been at the time.


Clare Fitzgerald is a Writer and Editor with eight years of experience in the online content sphere. Graduating with a Bachelor of Arts from King’s University College at Western University, her portfolio includes coverage of digital media, current affairs, history and true crime.

Among her accomplishments are being the Founder of the true crime blog, Stories of the Unsolved, which garners between 400,000 and 500,000 views annually, and a contributor for John Lordan’s Seriously Mysterious podcast. Prior to its hiatus, she also served as the Head of Content for UK YouTube publication, TenEighty Magazine.

In her spare time, Clare likes to play Pokemon GO and re-watch Heartland over and over (and over) again. She’ll also rave about her three Maltese dogs whenever she gets the chance.

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