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Spirialing ‘UFO’ Over Australia Was Likely Falcon 9 Rocket

Logical explanations take all the fun out of UFO’s. After the Falcon 9 rocket launched successfully, later, over on the other side of the world, people in Australia saw a spiraling object in their early morning skies, about 6 am local time. Geoffrey Wyatt, from the Sydney Observatory, said it appeared to have been the Falcon 9 rocket, which launched about an hour earlier.

Another image below.

Image of spiraling object over Australia, taken by Lance Godwin, from the 9MSN news station website.

The image is from the 9MSN website in Australia, where you can see more images.

If you recall, there was another spiraling rocket that created a visual sensation over Norway in December of 2009.

Hat tip to The Original Rocket Dungeon. Added later: Oh, and I see the Bad Astronomer has fully explained the whole thing!


Nancy Atkinson is currently Universe Today's Contributing Editor. Previously she served as UT's Senior Editor and lead writer, and has worked with Astronomy Cast and 365 Days of Astronomy. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Olaf June 5, 2010, 8:32 AM

    Well the Falcon 9 did spiral slowly at the end, the question now is could this be the Falcon 9? I do not find the flightpath and orbit anywhere.

  • Olaf June 5, 2010, 8:37 AM

    Found some orbital elements

    Orbital Elements:
    1 36595U 10026A 10155.91803255 .00078673 32520-5 10000-3 0 41
    2 36595 34.4959 40.7086 0023426 215.5471 255.2519 16.05715940 20

    Pass for Sydney, Australia:
    Location: Sydney (151.1949° E, 33.8883° S)
    Time zone: UTC

    Time Satellite Azm Elv Mag Range S.Azm S.Elv
    2010-06-05 19:40:45 DRAGON/FALCON 9 R/B 290.7 15.0 ecl 823 72.5 -14.9
    2010-06-05 19:42:06 DRAGON/FALCON 9 R/B 339.2 24.5 ? 580 72.4 -14.7
    2010-06-05 19:43:27 DRAGON/FALCON 9 R/B 27.6 15.1 ? 824 72.2 -14.4

  • sail4evr June 5, 2010, 10:44 AM

    why was it spiraling. Was it out of fuel and coasting or was it out of control. With no fuel, must be out of control. Did the rocket splashdown somewhere?

  • Restoration June 5, 2010, 11:34 AM

    sail4evr, you have so many questions that it is hilarious. I laughed at your post thoroughly.

  • hal10000 June 5, 2010, 11:49 AM

    When rocket stages are shut off, they are not completely “out of fuel.” There’s still residual fuel and oxidizer left in the tanks. Perhaps the liquid O2 began to boil from the heated environment, and seep through somewhere, causing the stage to “spiral.”

  • Torbjorn Larsson OM June 5, 2010, 1:39 PM

    This confirms the Falcon spinning observed in the launch video.

    @ sail4evr:

    Remember the russian launch spinning as observed in Norway? This was like that.

    In the launch video there was no separation between stage 2 and Dragon mock up (converted test, bed really), so the whole complex was reported “in orbit”.

    At least the Dragon will come down in a year, according to SpaceX (I believe).

  • SuperKevin June 5, 2010, 2:15 PM

    I no longer buy the ‘failed rocket’ theorys, the evidence doesn’t add up. These are definitely something else. Not saying they are from another planet, but they are not failed rockets, or boosters, etc.

  • IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE June 5, 2010, 2:51 PM

    @ SuperKevin,

    So, when you hear hoof-beats, what do you think of: horses or zebras?

  • Olaf June 5, 2010, 2:57 PM

    If you look at the last part of the Falcon 9 it is indeed spiralling a bit, not rotation around its axis. Is this expected?

    I am wondering if the 9 engine system is a bit hard to balance an equal trust on all engines. I hope not.

  • artberry June 5, 2010, 3:52 PM

    Problem with the rocket explanation is we have been firing rockets into the air since WWII and they’ve been crashing for just as long. Strange how they’ve only just started to crash with this regular spiral pattern in the last few months.

    Obviously if it’s not ET it’s probably some new form of technology designed to bring rockets down. E.g some form of torsion physics based defense system.

  • Aqua June 5, 2010, 5:02 PM

    The booster section is a recoverable asset. It is supposed to parachute gently back to Earth after separation from the second stage and Dragon simulation capsule then be recovered at sea. So the object seen over Australia must be the second stage assembly after separation from the test capsule?

  • Aqua June 5, 2010, 5:16 PM

    @artberry – No… this kind of thing has been see many times before. Typically a second or third stage booster section’s engine shuts off when the required orbital insertion parameters are met. Sometimes there is extra fuel left over in the tanks. When those used stages begin to outgas the extra/leftover fuel it acts like a jet which causes the leftover stage to spin. Seeing this effect is dependent on the sun’s angle in relation to the rockets path.

    @dseattle – Number one, this wasn’t a military flight, it was one of the first totally commercial flights. Secondly, the launch was during the day but the orbit took the used stage around the Earth to the night time side of the planet.

  • Olaf June 5, 2010, 5:21 PM

    I am with Aqua on this one.

  • Craig June 6, 2010, 12:14 AM

    norway was no rocket!!!!!!! look at it……

  • tiger June 6, 2010, 5:18 AM

    Can I ask whether the technicians in control of the launch have stated what they know about the second stage? Apart from a meaningless statement about a rotation – a rotation that wasn’t serious enough to interfere with the delivery of the payload.

    According to Space.com the capsule reached orbit at 2.55 p.m. EDT i.e. 9 minutes after lift off. That’s 4.55 a.m. AEST.

    According to NASA the plan was that the second stage was to burn for 8 mins 37 secs to place the payload at 155 mls above the earth. After coasting the second stage was to re-start and burn for a further 68 secs to proceed to a heliocentric orbit – unless there was a change of plan.

    I would imagine that the second stage was under observation at all times to achieve that outcome.

    If the spiral object is the second stage venting, it’s a vent with a significant aperture as the object filmed for over two minutes at @ 5.50 a.m. AEST shows quite a large focussed centre surrounded by the ‘halo-ing gases’.

    Did the second burn take place? If so, then there wouldn’t have been much left to vent.

    Was the second stage sent to a heliocentric orbit? If so, how could it be seen venting off the coast of Australia an hour after launch?

    What do the technicians say about the final outcome of the second stage?

    When I read the answer to the question, the convenient explanation for a very unusual event might make some sense.

  • Olaf June 6, 2010, 7:25 AM

    It depends on the efficiency of the engines which at that stage was a big unknown. They might have carried more fuel than needed just in case.

    Also even if you have a small amount of fuel, when it is spread in a feint mist over a large area, it will light up like fog does. In this case the angle of sunlight.

    I want to see more reports from FalconX. More technical data. Their own web site is disappointing low in news. Only the launch video that’s all.

  • IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE June 6, 2010, 7:26 AM


    Why would the US military in Australia want to shoot a rocket in the middle of the night over an area where people live?

    In revenge against Australians for inflicting Vegemite on the American people! 😉

  • spb June 6, 2010, 7:55 AM

    The spiral had to be greater than 27km alt to be seen in Brisbane and Melbourne at the same time.

    Photos show it to be about the size of the Moon.
    Even if it was only half this size (15 minutes of arc) and sitting on the Horizon at 27km alt, then it would have to be 2.5km in diameter.
    It’s likely that it was more than double this size.

    This leaves me to wonder how this possible from a 10m * 50m vessel expelling a little fuel.

    Real launch data would clear this up. Can anyone get it?

  • Aqua June 6, 2010, 10:05 AM

    I am surprised at how few viewers have yet to see an actual rocket launch? When a space launch reaches extreme altitude the rocket plumes can spread very rapidly over a vast area due to 1) the speed of the expelled exhaust in a vacuum and 2) the interaction with high altitude jet streams and/or the streaming solar wind. These displays are often very bright due to being in full sunlight while the surface has rotated into darkness. The evolution of high altitude rocket contrails are amazing to watch and always seem to cause a big stir amongst the under-informed.

  • Olaf June 6, 2010, 11:24 AM

    Very unlikely that I will see a launch ever, wrong side of the world.

    Not much fuel is needed to give such a wide area. It is similar like fog you shine a light through. Big area but low density of water droplets. Also the fuel damp is basically travelling with the rocket. The vacuum is spreading it out.

    But I would love that SpaceX gives more technical data about the launch. Unless it is of course company secrecy not to give away too much to the competition.