Mysterious streaks of light in the night sky surprise Californians

Mysterious streaks of light were spotted in the Sacramento-area sky Friday night, shocking St. Patrick’s Day guests, who then posted videos on social media of the surprising sight.

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

“We were primarily 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 brewery’s owner posted Hernandez’s video to Instagram and asked 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 is 99.9% sure the streaks are 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 683-pound piece of equipment was ejected from the space station in 2020 because it took up valuable space and would burn up completely on re-entry, McDowell added.

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

The U.S. Space Force confirmed the reentry path over California for the Inter-Orbit Communication System, and the timing is consistent with what people saw in the sky, he added. The space force could not immediately be contacted on Saturday with questions.

— By JENNIFER McDERMOTT Associated Press

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