A camera atop Hawaii’s tallest mountain captures what looks like a vortex in the night sky.
Researchers believe the strange phenomenon is linked to a military GPS satellite launched from a SpaceX rocket in Florida.
The images were captured Jan. 18 by a camera atop Mauna Kea outside the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan’s Subaru Telescope.
A time-lapse video shows a white orb expanding and creating a vortex as it moves through the sky. Then it fades away.
Ichi Tanaka, a researcher at the lab, said he was doing other work that night and did not see it immediately. Then a stargazer who was watching the camera’s livestream on YouTube sent him a screenshot of the vortex using an online messaging platform.
“When I opened up Slack, that’s what I saw, and it was a jaw-dropping experience for me,” Tanaka said. He saw a similar spiral after the SpaceX launch last April, but it was larger and fainter.
SpaceX launched the military satellite on the morning of January 18 from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The location of the spiral matched where the SpaceX rocket’s second stage was expected to be after launch.
SpaceX did not respond to an email seeking comment.
Tanaka said Subaru installed a surveillance camera outside the telescope to monitor surroundings and share images of Mauna Kea’s clear sky. Someone looking at the sky in less clear conditions, for example from Tokyo, would not have seen the vortex, he said.
The livestream is run in collaboration with the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun, and often receives hundreds of viewers. Some people tune in to see meteors.
There is some at the top of the Mauna Kei Best viewing conditions on Earth for astronomy, making it a preferred location for the world’s most advanced observatories. Even the summit Considered sacred by many Native HawaiiansThose who regard it as the abode of the gods.