On Sunday (June 19th) at 12: 27 a.m. EDT (0427 GMT), SpaceX launched a two-stage Falcon 9 rocket from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. The rocket carried a communications satellite for the Louisiana-based company Globalstar to orbit.

A few hours after liftoff, people worldwide started seeing strange things in the sky. They saw a smoke ring.

Jerrod Wood, who saw and recorded the video, reported to spaceweather.com, “I believe it shows the orbital insertion of the Globalstar FM15 satellite as it separated from the Falcon 9’s upper stage.”

The Falcon 9’s upper stage deployed the Globalstar communications satellite over two hours after launch; the smoke ring that Wood noticed was the “puff” of separation. People observed the event over much of North America, from Arizona to Missouri and beyond, because it occurred more than 700 miles above Earth.

As reported in spaceweather.com, this smoke ring got really weird hours later.

Alasdair Burns of Twinkle Dark Sky Tours said, “It looked like a beautiful galaxy appeared in the sky. It was a very slowly rotating spiral that started small and gradually expanded. Eventually, it became so large and faint that it could no longer be seen. A group of us was on our balcony watching it, and none had ever seen anything like it.”

smoke ring looking like a galaxy
Credit: Alasdair Burns of Twinkle Dark Sky Tours

In western North Carolina, David Cortner of Rutherford College, North Carolina, saw something that didn’t make any sense. Instead of a faint, moonlit ‘jellyfish,’ he saw a rocket-powered aurora.

He has shared an 8-frame mosaic showing a red band that appeared shortly after the launch.

Cortner said, “The rocket’s trajectory was much higher than I expected; however, it was almost 500 km high by the time it was due east of me, not 150-200 km as are most SpaceX flights up the Atlantic coast. As a result, the rocket passed by me unseen.”

Rocket powered aurora
This photo shows the extent of the glow about five minutes after the rocket’s passage. Credit: David Cortner of Rutherford College

“I went out to watch the midnight launch of the Falcon 9. Here in western North Carolina, I was hoping for a faint, moonlit ‘jellyfish.’ A minute or two after the rocket’s closest approach (by the clock), I noticed this red glow spreading across a broad swath of the eastern sky.”

“There was no space weather event in progress. That means the rocket somehow stimulated oxygen atoms ~500 km high to produce an artificial aurora. For reference, natural red auroras range in altitude from 150 km to 250 km, and more rarely up to 600 km.”

Spaceweather noted, “We do not know what produced this glow. But we encourage readers to share their views.