Mysterious streaks of light were seen across the Sacramento-area sky Friday night, shocking St. Patrick’s Day revelers who later posted videos to social media of the startling sight.
Jaime Hernandez was at the King Cong Brewing Company in Sacramento for a St. Patrick’s Day celebration when some band members noticed the lights. Hernandez soon began filming. It was over in about 40 seconds, he said on Saturday.
“We were mostly in shock, but amazed that we got to witness it,” Hernandez said in an email. “None of us had ever seen anything like it.”
The owner of the brewery posted the video of Hernandez on Instagramasking 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 was 99.9% confident the streaks of light came from burning space debris.
McDowell said a 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 retired. The equipment, weighing 310 kilograms (683 pounds), was jettisoned from the space station in 2020 because it took up valuable space and would burn out on reentry, McDowell added.
The flaming debris created a “spectacular light show in the sky,” McDowell said. He estimated the debris was about 40 miles high, traveling thousands of miles per hour.
The US Space Force has confirmed the re-entry route over California for the inter-orbit communications system, and the timing is consistent with what people saw in the sky, he added. Space Force could not be reached immediately with questions on Saturday.
McDermott reported from Providence, Rhode Island.