1. Super-High Plumes
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Last November 7th, Californians who happened to be out stargazing got a little more than they bargained for. Around 6 p.m., a strange object began shooting across the sky, drawing mass attention. Then, before their eyes of a freaked-out populace, it erupted, growing what looked like a huge, bright tail of blue flame. The sight sent the whole state into a frenzy. Even Julien Solomita and Jenna Marbles, rapid-talking YouTube stars whose footage of the event has been viewed nearly 10 million times, stayed quiet for several minutes as the weird thing passed overhead.
The New York Times was also on it, taking the opportunity to ask experts why people are so eager to pin such sightings on aliens. “Extraterrestrials are like deities for atheists,” author Michael Shermer explained at the time. “It’s almost a replacement for mainstream religion.”
But you don’t really need a spiritual void in order to jump to conclusions about an expanding cone of blue light high-tailing it across the sky. You just need eyes that grew up on Earth. As Oberg explains, that giant blue blast was actually a plume—a swarm of particles emitted by a rocket thruster as it shoots through space.