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Stargazers spot SpaceX's Crew-2 Dragon streaking across the night sky in amazing photos

Crew-2's safe return to Earth lit up the night sky over New Orleans and Florida on Tuesday (Nov. 9), wowing viewers with a sky show.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour splashed down safely in the Gulf of Mexico just south of Pensacola, Florida, at 10:33 p.m. EST (0333 GMT on Nov. 9). In its last few minutes of the 199-day mission, it left a glowing trail during re-entry visible to viewers underneath.

Landing story: SpaceX Crew-2 Dragon capsule splashes down in Gulf of Mexico

Just like a meteor, returning spacecraft are traveling at high speeds and compress the atmosphere just ahead of them, causing the atmosphere to glow. If the sky is clear, the glow can be visible for many miles. 

"Holy crap that was awesome!" a skywatcher named Christopher of Mandeville, Louisiana wrote on Twitter (opens in new tab) while sharing a photo of the reentry. 

The reentry zone was a particular treat for viewers in New Orleans, given that the astronauts splashed down on the west side of the Florida. During the space shuttle era, returning spacecraft typically landed in Florida closer to the eastern coast (Orlando area), towards the runway at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral. Viewers in the region shared their excitement on Twitter, as you can see below.

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Crew Dragon is a different reentry experience to that of the shuttle or the Soyuz, returning astronauts have reported. "It sounds like an animal," NASA astronaut Bob Behnken once said of his Aug. 2, 2020 return during Demo-2. "The atmosphere makes noise; you can start to hear that rumble outside the vehicle," he said.

Another thing that makes Crew Dragon stand apart is its ability to land on water, which NASA astronauts hadn't experienced since the Apollo-Soyuz program of the 1975. All Americans since then returned on land, either on U.S. soil or in the steppes of Kazakhstan, when using a Soyuz spacecraft (the main astronaut taxi for most of the past decade).

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In fact, seeing any returning spacecraft at all on U.S. soil is still a novelty given that SpaceX only began to return astronauts again to Florida in 2020, following a nine-year gap that ensued after the space shuttle program's retirement in 2011. Even seasoned reporters were awed by the view of re-entry.

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Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she tackles topics like spaceflight, diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc (opens in new tab). in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Her latest book, NASA Leadership Moments, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.