The amazing “space jellyfish” appeared in the sky of the southern United States at 5:45 am on Thursday, May 5. That’s what it was.
Credit: Chris Combs/Twitter
At dawn on Thursday, May 5, a bright and mysterious phenomenon appeared in the sky of the southern United States, caused by a flying object that left behind a long and winding trail. The passing object depicted something very similar to a “space jellyfish,” Professor Chris Coombs, professor of aerodynamics and mechanical engineering at the University of Texas at Texas, wrote in a San Antonio tweet. You can watch a video of a so-called space jellyfish—more than a Konidari, to be picky—below, captured by a security camera installed in Waycross, Georgia.
To generate it, Professor Coombs points out, it was a Falcon 9 rocket from SpaceX, the private airline of naturalized South African American businessman Elon Musk. These 70-meter rocket launchers made international headlines for their ability to return the first stage to Earth, designed for reuse for subsequent launches (with huge economic savings). Today, NASA regularly uses Falcon 9s to launch satellites and bring astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) on Crew Dragon shuttles, as was the case recently with Samantha Cristoforetti. Dozens of them are released each year, however the phenomenon of “space jellyfish” is somewhat unusual. As Live Science reports, the Waycross camera was positioned nearly 400 kilometers away as the crow flew from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where the SpaceX rocket lifted off.
So how did this remarkable phenomenon arise? It was Professor Coombs who explained it, with a series of illuminating tweets on Twitter. He initially noted that the “space jellyfish” formed from the jet exhaust from the engine nozzle of a Falcon 9 rocket; The nozzle is the component of jet engines – such as those in military aircraft – where thermal energy is converted into kinetic energy, which determines the (and not only) aircraft thrust. The creation of this silhouette in the sky is due to the difference in pressure between the exhaust gases and those in the surrounding atmosphere. Simply put, the gas leaving the nozzle is under expansion (its pressure is higher than the circumference), so for equilibrium, its pressure decreases and thus expands. It is precisely this reaction that generated the shape of a jellyfish in the sky.
Regarding the brilliance of the phenomenon, the explanation should be sought at the time when it occurred, i.e. 5:45 AM. At this hour the light coming from the horizon – as the sun approached sunrise – was illuminating the gases from below, in a sky that was still mostly dark. These details, combined with the role of pressure, gave rise to the amazing “space jellyfish”.
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