Is it a galaxy, the aurora borealis, or perhaps an interuniversal portal?

Over the weekend in Alaska, a blue spiral was spotted in the sky that intrigued scholars and ordinary onlookers alike. Sky watchers were surprised to see the spiral materialize Saturday for a short time, having already enjoyed the northern lights a few hours earlier.

What that spiral was was discovered shortly thereafter: frozen fuel. Only three hours before the spiral appeared, in fact, a SpaceX rocket had taken off from California — on a mission that was later aborted.

According to space physicist Don Hampton, associate research professor at the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, rockets occasionally dump their residual fuel. “When they do that at high altitude, the fuel turns to ice,” he said. “And if it’s in the sunlight, when you’re in the dark on the ground, you can see it as kind of a big cloud, sometimes swirling.”

A second spiral, this one above Hawaii’s Big Island, was spotted in January. A spiral galaxy was photographed by a camera atop Mauna Kea, outside the Subaru Telescope of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan. According to researchers, it was caused by the previous SpaceX rocket launch in Florida of a military GPS satellite.

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