People & Places

Mysterious bright light baffles Vermonters

A photo taken from a car driving on Interstate 89 of what was later determined to be a SpaceX rocket. Photo by Bruce Kasanoff

The sky over Vermont was mostly clear on Saturday night. It was a typical early autumn weekend and the air was cool. The stars were beginning to shine.

Matt Cortigiani was 31 hours into a 32-hour drive. He was in the Swanton area stopping for gas, nearly done with his long drive to Burlington from Salt Lake City, Utah. Cortigiani may be slightly more attuned to how planes look in the sky than most. The 26-year-old has worked as a survey pilot and is moving to Burlington after accepting a new job with an airline. After leaving the Swanton gas station, he saw something in the sky that caught his eye: a bright light with a tail behind it.

“So I think at first, oh, wow, somebody must be diverting from Burlington or something,” Cortigiani said in an interview. “There’s not much reason for there to be much traffic up by Swanton.”

Even as a pilot, he had no idea what to make of it.

At about the same time, across the state, a couple in their car saw the same strange light.

Bruce Kasanoff was on his way home with his partner after spending the day in Burlington to visit the Green Mountain Book Festival. The couple drove a stretch of Interstate 89 north of their home in Quechee. Through their windshield, in the night sky, appeared a bright light with a tail behind it. It didn’t appear to move like an airplane would, Kasanoff said. 

“We were just really kind of baffled. What is that?” he recalled asking.

It wasn’t long before those who spotted the object took to social media looking for answers. Was it a meteor? A plane? Perhaps a UFO?

That mysterious light in the sky on Saturday night, it turns out, was a SpaceX mission, the company confirmed. Around 7:30 p.m., its Falcon 9 rocket launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, carrying 52 Starlink satellites. 

A SpaceX-uploaded video following the mission shows that the second stage of the rocket was deployed over the Atlantic ocean off the coast of Maine, explaining the sightings by startled Vermonters.

“The interesting part of this is what happens to your brain when you see something like this,” Kasanoff said. Once he and his partner arrived home, some internet searching led them to the correct explanation of the SpaceX rocket, but it wasn’t an option on his radar at first.

“I have to admit that I did not go to, ‘Oh, well, that’s a rocketship.’ You’re in the middle of Vermont, you just don’t think of a rocketship passing overhead,” Kasanoff said.

To Cortigiani’s trained eye, the object seemed even stranger. A cone of light should not have been visible with a plane in such clear weather, and the cone behind this object was massive. Later on, after checking Reddit, Cortigiani learned it was all related to SpaceX, but at the time, he continued his drive with a shrug.

“I just think, eh, Vermont’s weird as hell. Everybody knows that,” he said. “It’s just Vermont stuff going on.”

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Patrick Crowley

About Patrick

Patrick Crowley is VTDigger's Burlington Reporter. Previously, he has worked for the Brattleboro Reformer and wrote as a freelance reporter in Ventura County, California. Patrick is a musician and volunteers as a firefighter and advanced EMT.


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