Mysterious streaks of light were observed in the Sacramento area Friday night sky, puzzling St. Patrick’s Day revelers, who then posted videos of the astonishing sight to social media.
Jaime Hernandez was behind King Kong Brewing Company in Sacramento for a St. Patrick’s Day celebration when some of the group saw the lights. Hernandez quickly began filming. He said on Saturday that it was over in about 40 seconds.
“Primarily, we were in shock, but amazed that we got to see this,” Hernandez said in an email. “None of us had ever seen anything like it.”
The brewery owner posted Hernandez’s video to Instagram, asking if anyone could solve the mystery.
Jonathan McDowell says he can. McDowell is an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. McDowell said in an interview with The Associated Press on Saturday that he was 99.9% confident that the streaks of light were from burning space debris.
McDowell said a Japanese communications package that transmits information from the International Space Station to a communications satellite and then back to Earth became obsolete in 2017 when the satellite was retired. McDowell said the device, weighing 310 kilograms (683 lb), was to be removed from the space station in 2020 because it was taking up valuable space and would burn up completely.
The flaming pieces of debris created a “spectacular light show in the sky,” McDowell said. They estimated that the debris was about 40 miles high, traveling at thousands of miles per hour.
He said the US Space Force has confirmed the re-entry path over California for the Inter-Orbit Communication System and that the timing is consistent with what people have seen in the sky. Space Force could not immediately be reached with questions on Saturday.