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Strange blue light spirals travelling across the night sky in New Zealand left stargazers wondering whether it could have been an alien spacecraft.
A misty spiral formed in space over Nelson, a city at the tip of New Zealand's south island, before travelling 750km south to Stewart Island by around 7.30pm on Sunday.
During its journey many residents took to social media to share their photos of the breathtaking phenomenon.
However, despite early beliefs this could be a close encounter of the third kind, residents discovered the origins of the astronomical light show was a lot closer to home.
The spectacle is believed to be that of a dying rocket launched by tech billionaire Elon Musk's SpaceX after it launched a Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Globalstar DM15 satellite from Cape Canaveral in Florida on Sunday morning – the third rocket flight in 36 hours.
In a Facebook post on Sunday, the New Plymouth Astronomical Society explained that the spiral was most likely caused by a "fuel dump" or "exhaust plume" from a SpaceX rocket launch.
"Similar effects have been seen before, and SpaceX's Globalstar 2 FM15 was likely to have passed New Zealand around that time," it added.
As the rocket released its payload it spun and vented fuel, which caused a vapour trail that reflected sunlight.
The illuminated plume of the rocket created the visible blue swirl.
The New Plymouth Astronomical Society said a fuel dump was the most likely cause of the eye-catching spiral.
The stunning blue spiral was an extraordinary sight for thousands of New Zealanders despite its man-made origins.
Stewart Island star-gazer Alasdair Burns said the spiral was by far the strangest thing he had ever seen.
'It was absolutely bizarre. It was like a massive spiral. And it very, very slowly, serenely moving north across the night sky and then just sort of dissipating as it went,' Mr Burns told Stuff.
Māpua local Augustine Matthews said she ran outside to watch the spiral with her husband.
'It looked like a planet or star.' she said.
'It was just a white dot with a tiny spiral.
'And within 10 minutes it had traversed half the sky and the spiral had grown three times in size.
'It wasn't blinking or twinkling, and it was moving fairly fast… so fascinating.'
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This is not the first time stargazers have been treated to such a sight.
According to the New Zealand Herald, a similar spiral was spotted across the Pacific region last year, on Jun 18.
That spiral, which was brighter in some parts of the Pacific, was seen in places such as Fiji, Samoa, New Caledonia and the small island of Tokelau.
It was later explained that the spiral was from the release of gas from a Chinese rocket.
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