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HomeNewsLocal newsSudden Astro Appearance Amazes the Unwitting

Sudden Astro Appearance Amazes the Unwitting

A SpaceX rocket made a brief, surprise visit in the sky over St. Thomas Monday night. (Photo by Kirk McGeorge)

For a spectacular moment, a mysterious glow shot through the night sky to the amazement of those who happened to look up at the right time. That time was a bit after 7 p.m. Monday.

“My wife and I were sitting in the cockpit of our boat” in Charlotte Amalie Harbor, Kirk McGeorge said. “Cindy (Laye) saw it first, coming over the mountain. I grabbed my camera.”

McGeorge got a shot of the unexpected phenomenon, which he shared on social media; numerous V.I. residents chimed in with accounts of their own sightings. There were also reports of viewings from various islands in the Caribbean.

“I knew what it was because I used to live in Florida,” McGeorge said. Although this was the first time he’d actually seen it, he was familiar with the concept. It was the plasma trail of a rocket.

At 6:13 p.m. EST (7:13 p.m. in the Virgin Islands) the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on the Starlink 6-1 mission launched from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. It had been scheduled for lift-off about five hours earlier but was delayed to wait for a solar storm to pass.

The rocket was used to carry a satellite into space as part of the vast Starlink broadband communications system SpaceX is expanding.

The launch was not secret; it was covered live and can be watched via a Youtube video.  However, the company, famously owned by billionaire Elon Musk, didn’t alert the public in all the areas where the rocket might have been viewed.

“It’d be nice if we had a heads-up,” said Daryl Jaschen, director of the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency. In reference to the public response to the unexpected sight, he added, “Anything that’s not normal is always questioned.”

But, he added, the company is only obligated to alert the public in areas that could be directly impacted, such as those near the launch site or those near the area where the rocket returns to Earth.

As covered in the video, once it released the satellite, the “booster” rocket, or “stage one” landed back on Earth on a ship positioned northeast of the Bahamas for that purpose.

Had the rocket launched in daylight, as originally scheduled, it might not have been widely noticed.

Jaschen called Starlink “very successful” and added, “That’s what I use personally.”

There are some 3,000 satellites employed in the system now, he said, and eventually, it will probably be closer to 12,000.

So this may not be the last chance to glimpse a rocket streaking across the sky “near” you.

“We’ll see more of those in the future,” Jaschen said.

The narrator on the launch video — actually a voice generated by AI (Artificial Intelligence) — said there were two other launches scheduled for Monday, both of which had to be postponed for different reasons. There are four more launches scheduled in the next 10 days, some from Florida and some from California. SpaceX has already completed 13 launches this year.

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