What was that strange swirling light in the Ozarks sky on Monday night?

Published: Feb. 1, 2022 at 4:47 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 1, 2022 at 4:50 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - ”Never seen anything like that!”

“Wow!”

“How cool is that?”

“But what is it?”

“I don’t know but it’s awesome!”

Those were just a few of the comments made by viewers who sent us cell phone videos of the strange swirling light in the sky on Monday evening that led to a lot of speculation.

But as it turns out it was not an alien invasion or the second coming.

It was the leftovers of a SpaceX launch at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

At 6:11 p.m. CDT the SpaceX rocket took off carrying an Italian Space Agency satellite that’s part of a fleet of spacecraft that will monitor shipping traffic, natural disasters and climate change.

The first stage of the rocket landed back on earth safely as it is designed to do and can be reused.

And as Dr. Greg Ojakangas, a retired Drury University professor who worked 25 years for NASA explained, the second stage remained in orbit for a while and eventually burned up in the atmosphere.

“Eventually it detaches and deorbits and when they have extra fuel left over they dump it producing a spiral pattern,” Ojakangas said. “So that’s what people saw. Basically the rocket went up, circled the earth almost one full time, ended up over the midwest and burned up its fuel on the way out.”

This is just the latest in more unusual sights we’re seeing in the night sky these days. It wasn’t that long ago people were wondering what those long string of lights floating across the sky were that seemed to be in perfect formation. It turned out those were Starlink satellites that are joining a growing number of objects in space.

“The Starlink satellites SpaceX is sending up, well there are going to be tens-of-thousands of them,” Ojakangas said. “China is sending up a constellation of satellites. We’re at the beginning of a really intense increase in the use of space and that’s a major environmental hazard.”

Ojakangas knows all about that because he specialized in space debris at NASA and is familiar with the danger of recent incidents where the International Space Station had to swerve in its orbit to dodge debris.

“Even a tiny piece of debris too small to even track will have the power of high explosives,” he pointed out.

And that’s one of the reasons why NASA recently launched a Double Asteroid Redirection Test known as the DART program where next September a probe is scheduled to crash into a pair of asteroids. It is part of an attempt to develop technology that would change the paths of dangerous objects on a collision course with earth.

“These sorts of missions may in fact save our species at some point in the future,” Ojakangas said.

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