Home News Light streaks seen in the California sky could be from burning space debris

Light streaks seen in the California sky could be from burning space debris

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Jennifer McDermott, Associated Press

Posted on Saturday, March 18, 2023 4:45pm EST

Last updated on Saturday, March 18, 2023, 4:45 PM EST

Mysterious streaks of light were seen across the Sacramento-area sky Friday night, shocking St. Patrick’s Day revelers who later posted videos on social media of the sudden sight.

Jaime Hernandez was behind King Kong Brewing Company in Sacramento for a St. Patrick’s Day celebration when some of the band members noticed the lights. Hernandez soon began filming. On Saturday, he said it was over in about 40 seconds.

“We were mostly shocked, but surprised to see that,” Hernandez said in an email. “None of us had ever seen anything like it.”

The brewery owner posted a video of Hernandez on Instagram, asking if anyone could solve the mystery.

Jonathan McDowell says he can. McDowell is an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. McDowell said in an interview with The Associated Press on Saturday that he’s 99.9% confident that the streaks of light came from burning space debris.

McDowell said the Japanese communications package that transmits information from the International Space Station to a communications satellite and back to Earth became obsolete in 2017 when the satellite stopped working. McDowell added that the equipment, which weighs 310 kilograms (683 pounds), was dumped from the space station in 2020 because it took up precious space and would burn up completely upon return.

McDowell said the flaming debris created an “incredible light show in the sky”. He estimated the wreckage to be about 40 miles high, traveling thousands of miles per hour.

He added that the US Space Force confirmed the return trajectory over California for the interorbital communications system, and the timing matches what people saw in the sky. The Space Force can’t be reached immediately with questions on Saturday.

McDermott reported from Providence, Rhode Island.

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