'UFO' Spotted Over Australia Likely a Private Rocket

'UFO' Spotted Over Australia Likely a Private Rocket
This photo of the dazzling sky spiral was taken by skywatcher Baden West in Australia before sunrise on June 5, 2010 and was likely created by the new private Falcon 9 rocket launched a day earlier by the U.S. company SpaceX. Full Story. (Image credit: Baden West.)

Thisstory was updated at 8:02 a.m. ET, June 8.

Aneerie spiral light show in the pre-dawn sky over Australia early Saturdayprompted a flood of UFO reports to local news stations, but was likely just theremnants of a new private rocket launched by an American millionaire, accordingto Australian media reports.

The bright skyspiral appeared before sunrise on Saturday over New South Wales, Queensland andthe Australia Capital Territory (ACT), with witnesses describing it as a"lollipop-type swirl," the Australia Broadcasting Corp. (ABC)reported.

"Thespiral looked like a bright light shining through some clouds in a spiralshape, except the edges of the spiral were very sharp and defined unlike what acloud might look like," Baden West, who snapped photos of the spiralbefore it faded from view, told SPACE.com in an e-mail. "It was also verylarge, much bigger than any photo makes it look and in terms of brightness. Itlooked like it was about as bright as a full moon but all the light was comingfrom a much smaller point."

Onewitness, James Butcher of Canberra, told ABC that the spiral light appeared tohave a yellow hue.

Anotherskywatcher described the sky apparition as a "huge revolving moon,"according to ABC.

But despiteclaims of otherworldlyorigins, the phenomenon was likely created by the new Falcon9 rocket launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla., by Space Exploration Technologies(SpaceX), a California-based spaceflight company led by millionaire PayPalco-founder Elon Musk.

"Iheard people in Australia thought UFOs were visiting :)," SpaceX's millionairefounder Elon Musk told SPACE.com in an e-mail. "The venting ofpropellants, which is done to ensure that an overpressure event doesn't produceorbital debris, created a temporary halo caught the sun at just the right anglefor a great view from Australia.  I thought the pictures looked reallycool." [See the sky spiral.]

Professionalskywatchers quickly suggested that SpaceX's first Falcon 9 rocket may be thesource of the sky spiral, ABC reported

"Thefact that you've got the rotation, the spiral effect, is very reminiscent ofthe much widely reported sightings from Norway and Russia last year, which bothturned out to be a Bulava missile which was being adjusted in its orbit,"Geoffrey Whyatt of the Sydney Observatory told ABC. "So possibly a rocket,I would say, having some sort of gyroscopic stability rocket fired on itsside."

The Bulavamissile spiral occurred in December 2009 and also set off a flurry of UFOreports from observers on the ground, as well as resulting in spectacularphotos.

The newFalcon 9 blasted off Friday afternoon from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station ona successfultest flight that reached an orbit of about 155 miles (250 km) above Earth.

SpaceX plansto use the two-stage Falcon 9 rocket to launch its own Dragon spacecraft onunmanned cargo flights to the International Space Station for NASA under a $1.6billion contract with the U.S. space agency.

Musk alsohopes to add an emergency launch escape system to the 180-foot (55-meter) tallrocket and refit the Dragon spacecraft to launch astronauts into space.

NASA plansto retire its three aging space shuttles later this year after two finalmissions and rely on commercial spacecraft to send astronauts and cargo intoorbit.

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