The re-entry of a part of the Falcon9 rocket is seen from Spain

Reentry of the Falcon 9 captured from the Calar Alto Observatory / calar alto observatory

Science | Space

The phenomenon has been visible from much of the south and center-east of the peninsula

Those who got up early today, around 6:05 in the morning, in much of the south and center-east of the peninsula, will have been able to see strange moving lights flying over the skies. In social networks there has soon been talk of a large drone and a possible satellite, but the real explanation is this: it is the second part of the Falcon 9 space rocket from the company Space X, by Elon Musk, upon entering back on Earth after placing 51 Starlink satellites in orbit, whose goal is to provide high-speed internet for advanced telecommunications.

The Falcon 9 was launched from Cape Canaveral (United States) at 2:32 am (Spanish time). "As the rocket ascends, parts come off," says astrophysicist José María Madiedo, from the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia (IAA-CSIC). The first stage is the fuel stage, which runs out, breaks off and can be recovered. In the so-called second stage is where it carries the load of the aforementioned 51 satellites.

This part is the one that reaches into space and places the satellites in orbit. Once its function is finished, the structure is unusable, and what Space X has done is propel it back to the earth's surface, to prevent it from remaining as space junk. "It has been forced to fall back to Earth, and that is what has been seen, the re-entry into the atmosphere of that second stage," explains Madiedo.

The nebula described by the witnesses, and which was perfectly visible from many points in Spain, was the cloud of gases that come out of the propellants of the rocket, which slow it down in its descent until it is disintegrated by friction with the Earth's atmosphere.

The point of fall has not yet been determined, but according to the expert, it was most likely somewhere in the Mediterranean. These materials are not recovered, but are destroyed upon entry, so only small fragments may have fallen despite the spectacular image.

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