SpaceX’s first-ever Falcon 9 launch from California gave a big boost to commercial spaceflight — but it also boosted our planet’s store of UFO lore.
Reports about a fuzzy-looking unidentified flying object streamed in from observers in southern Africa and the Indian Ocean islands of Mauritius and Reunion. The sightings came about an hour after the Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket’s launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base at 9 a.m. PT (noon ET) Sunday.
The Zimbabwe Mail marveled over the “strange moonlike object” seen from the country’s Mashonaland region, as well as from Botswana, Malawi and South Africa. Mauritius’ L’Express wondered whether it was a UFO, a satellite or a star cluster.
A retired astronomer from Cape Town, Greg Roberts, gave the correct explanation in an interview with The New Age, a South African publication: “It was propellant or rocket fuel” released by the Falcon 9 rocket’s second stage.
After sending several satellites into a pole-to-pole orbit, the Falcon’s second stage released its leftover fuel, which is standard procedure to avoid a blowup during its atmospheric re-entry.