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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

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SpaceX's Crew Dragon Endeavour is seen as it streaks across the night sky before splashdown to return four Crew-2 astronauts to Earth with a splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Pensacola, Florida on Nov. 8, 2021.

SpaceX's Crew Dragon Endeavour is seen as it streaks across the night sky before splashdown to return four Crew-2 astronauts to Earth with a splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Pensacola, Florida on Nov. 8, 2021. (Image credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)
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SpaceX's Crew Dragon Endeavour is seen as it streaks across the night sky before splashdown to return four Crew-2 astronauts to Earth with a splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Pensacola, Florida on Nov. 8, 2021.

SpaceX's Crew Dragon Endeavour is seen as it streaks across the night sky before splashdown to return four Crew-2 astronauts to Earth with a splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Pensacola, Florida on Nov. 8, 2021. (Image credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)
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SpaceX's Crew-2 Dragon Endeavour and its crew of four astronauts splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Pensacola, Florida late Nov. 8, 2021.

SpaceX's Crew-2 Dragon Endeavour and its crew of four astronauts splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Pensacola, Florida late Nov. 8, 2021. (Image credit: NASA TV)

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 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.

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook. 

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Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell is a contributing writer for Space.com who is one of the few Canadian journalists to report regularly on space exploration. She is the author or co-author of several books on space exploration. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. from the University of North Dakota in Space Studies, and an M.Sc. from the same department. She also holds a bachelor of journalism degree from Carleton University in Canada, where she began her space-writing career in 2004. Besides writing, Elizabeth teaches communications at the university and community college level, and for government training schools. To see her latest projects, follow Elizabeth on Twitter at @howellspace.