A mysterious band of light appeared in the Sacramento-area sky on Friday night, shocking St. Patrick’s Day revelers who later posted video of the stunning sight on social media.
When Jaime Hernandez attended a St. Patrick’s Day celebration behind King Cong Brewing Company in Sacramento, some people noticed the lights. Hernandez quickly began filming. It was over in about 40 seconds, he said on Saturday.
“Mostly, we were shocked, but also surprised that we got to witness it,” Hernandez said in an email. “None of us have seen anything like it.”
The brewery owner posted the video of Hernandez to Instagram, asking if anyone could solve the mystery.
Jonathan McDowell said he could. 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 percent sure the bands of light came from burning space debris.
A communications package in Japan, which relays information from the International Space Station to communications satellites and back to Earth, became obsolete after the satellite was decommissioned in 2017, McDowell said. The 310-kilogram (683-pound) piece of equipment was jettisoned from the space station in 2020 because it took up valuable space and would burn up completely on re-entry, McDowell added.
Fragments of the burning wreckage created a “spectacular light show” in the sky, McDowell said. He estimated the debris was about 40 miles high and traveling thousands of miles an hour.
He added that the U.S. Space Force confirmed the re-entry path of the inter-orbit communication system over California at the same time as what was seen in the sky. The Space Force could not immediately be reached for questions Saturday.