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What is going on in the Pacific sky?

The Pacific Swirl Photo Credit: Association Calédonienne d’Astronomie Facebook

Last Friday (June 18), around 6pm, several witnesses saw and photographed a beautiful, but mystifying spiral in the skies of New Caledonia and Vanuatu in the southwest Pacific.

Responding to the report, Association Calédonienne d’Astronomie (ACA) said in a Facebook post: “Several witnesses in Yaté, Thio, La Tontouta and in Vanuatu saw this strange phenomenon. We have no explanation. Based on our initial research, the only similar phenomenon is the Norway Spiral in 2009.”

The 2009 Norway Spiral was observed across the northern end of the country for around 10 minutes, but the display was found to be the result of a Russian missile launch that went wrong.

The Bulava missile, which was confirmed by the Russian government to have been the source of the spiral according to a report from New Scientist, is thought to have been damaged causing the exhaust to point at the wrong angle. This led to the missile twirling with a plomb, spewing out fire which created the enormous spiralling display.

The Pacific swirl has a similar explanation.

“Jonathan McDowell, an American astronomer who lists all the manoeuvres and orbital launches on the planet confirmed that it was the second stage of a Chinese Long March 2C rocket, which took off on June 18 at 06:25 UTC from the centre of launch of Xichang, with 4 satellites on board,” wrote the ACA on the Facebook post.

Amaury Bellee, who contacted him, explains: “After completing its mission, the stage would have expelled its fuel (UDMH and nitrogen peroxide) to passivate, that is to say it (prevents it from exploding) in orbit due to the residual pressure in the tanks. It is this phenomenon that you have observed’.”

The spiral is the second seen this year as McDowell explained to the ACA that the same source was responsible for a swirl spotted back in May.

“Both sky swirls were seen within 30 minutes of a rocket launch taking off from the same place with the same parameters: “an inclination of the orbit of 34 ° with a direction of launch towards the south-east according to Joseph Remis, another specialist in the subject,” said the ACA.

A similar launch is expected in July, according to the NZ Herald.

 

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