(AFP) – June 4, 2010
SYDNEY — A bright spiralling light, believed by astronomers to be a rocket launched from Cape Canaveral, was spotted in skies across Australia's east coast just before dawn Saturday, sparking a UFO frenzy.
Described by some witnesses as a "lollipop-type swirl", the cloud of light was seen over country's three easternmost provinces -- New South Wales, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory -- shortly before sunrise.
"It had a distinct bright centre, much like a bright star ... (with) trails spiralling and fattening out from it," Canberra resident James Butcher told broadcaster ABC of the spectacle, which he said lasted two or three minutes.
Other witnesses likened the spectacular phenomenon, footage of which was quick to hit the Internet, to a "huge revolving moon" with a swirl in the middle, or an illuminated cloud moving high and fast above the horizon.
"It certainly had that lollipop-type swirl ... but it was travelling low and fairly fast, and as it went past me and I looked up, it looked like a row of lights, maybe four lights," one Brisbane resident said.
An article written in ‘The handbook of unusual natural phenomena’ by William R Corliss in 1977 bears a striking resemblance to recent photos and videos that surfaced on the web about a strange looking vortex appearing over Norway.
The article states that "... ascending rockets punch detectable holes in the ionosphere and are sometimes heard hundreds of miles away. Rockets that release this much energy must also produce visible effects as the engines hot exhaust gases expand into the rarefied upper atmosphere and ionosphere. High-altitude winds blow the glowing exhaust plumes into fantastic shapes visible over great distances.
The NASA Centaur 2 launch on November 27th 1963 instigated several reports of strange luminous phenomena from ships far off the Florida coast. On the M.V. Wendover, bound from Dakar to Cape Town, the captain and many of the crew were treated to a spectacular show. “At first a small, white spherical cloud with a bright centre was seen bearing 230° at an altitude of 40°. It rapidly enlarged and assumed the form of perfectly defined concentric circles of light. The circles reached a maximum of 5° radius from altitude 40° to 50° and the greatest brightness was equal to that of a full moon. As the object passed across the sky, heading approximately 310° -130°, the concentric circles became elliptical with a ‘Catherine-wheel’ effect which gave the impression of anticlockwise rotation. When the body passed ahead of the vessel, the surrounding cloud of light dissolved and became the single bright white light usually associated with artificial satellites. (Marine Observer, 35: 20, 1965)
Sketches of the phenomena were submitted to the editor of the Marine Observer by the captains of the M.V Pennyworth and the M.V. Ripon, also in the North Atlantic well off Cape Canaveral."