What we know about the lights streaking across the sky in Sacramento
Mysterious streaks of light were spotted in the Sacramento area Friday night, startling St. Patrick’s Day revelers who posted videos of the amazing sight on social media.
Jaime Hernandez was at King Kong Brewing Company in Sacramento to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day when some of the team noticed the lights. Hernandez quickly began filming. It was over in about 40 seconds, he said Saturday.
“Mainly, we were shocked, but surprised that we got to see it,” Hernandez said in an email. “None of us have ever seen anything like it.”
The brewery owner posted the 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. In an interview with The Associated Press on Saturday, McDowell said he was 99.9% confident the streaks of light came from debris from the burning site.
McDowell said a Japanese communications package that relays information from the International Space Station to a communications satellite and then back to Earth became obsolete when the satellite was retired in 2017. The 683-pound tool was jettisoned from the space station in 2020 because it was taking up valuable space and would burn up completely during re-entry, McDowell added.
Flaming bits of debris created “a spectacular light show in the sky,” McDowell said. He estimated that the debris was about 40 miles high, thousands of miles per hour.
Raj Dixit, vice president of the Sacramento Valley Astronomical Society, told CBS Sacramento that the old Japanese communications satellite is known as ICS. He said the satellite was originally launched in 2009, taking more than a decade to return to Earth.
Dixit says there is some decades-old space junk still floating around, but most of it is in an orbit that’s so stable, it won’t come down for many, many years. Meanwhile, put all extraterrestrial rumors to rest.
“I think the aliens would be smart enough not to blow up in the atmosphere. You would expect that if they could get across the universe, they wouldn’t blow up as soon as they got here,” Dixit said. “As much as we like to fantasize about UFOs or alien invasions or asteroid Armageddon, the truth is a little more mundane but fascinating,” Dixit said.
The U.S. Space Force has confirmed a re-entry path to California for the inter-orbit communications system, and the timing is consistent with what people have seen in the sky, he added. Space Force could not immediately be reached Saturday with questions.
According to NASA’s website, Department of Defense sensors are tracking about 27,000 pieces of space junk, and most are larger than a softball.