Mysterious streaks of light spotted in California sky

Mysterious streaks of light were seen in the sky in Northern California on Friday night, shocking St. Patrick’s Day revelers who then posted a video of the amazing sight on social media.

Jaime Hernandez was standing outside the King Cong Brewing Company in Sacramento for a St. Patrick’s Day celebration when some of the group noticed the lights. Hernandez quickly began filming. It was all over in about 40 seconds, he said on Saturday.

“We were mostly shocked but amazed to have witnessed this,” Hernandez said in an email. “None of us have 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 Saturday in an interview with The Associated Press that he was 99.9% sure the streaks of light were from burning space debris.

McDowell said the Japanese communications package that relayed information from the International Space Station to a communications satellite and then back to Earth became obsolete in 2017 when the satellite was decommissioned. McDowell added that the 310 kg (683 lb) equipment was jettisoned from the space station in 2020 because it took up valuable space and burned up completely on re-entry.

According to McDowell, the flaming debris created a “spectacular light show in the sky”.

He added that the US Space Force has confirmed the re-entry trajectory over California for the inter-orbital communications system and the timing is consistent with what people have seen in the sky. It was not possible to contact the space forces on Saturday with questions.


McDermott reported from Providence, Rhode Island.

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