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Mysterious streaks of light in the sky over California

Mysterious streaks of light appeared in the sky in the Sacramento area on Friday night, shocking St. Patrick’s Day revelers, who then posted videos of the startling sight to social media.

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

“Mostly we were shocked but amazed that we got to witness it,” Hernandez said in an email. “None of us have ever seen anything like it.”

The brewery owner posted the video of Hernandez 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 in an interview with The Associated Press on Saturday that he was 99.9% certain the light streaks 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 was obsolete in 2017 when the satellite was retired. The 310-kilogram equipment was jettisoned from the space station in 2020 because it was taking up valuable space and would be completely incinerated upon re-entry, McDowell added.

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

The US Space Force confirmed the re-entry path over California for the Inter-Orbit Communication System, and the timing matches what people have seen in the sky, he added. The Space Force was not immediately available for questions on Saturday.


McDermott reported from Providence, Rhode Island.