The people of Northern California were confused and slightly afraid after space junk re-entered the atmosphere blazing a trail in the night sky above.
Astonished citizens whipped out their smartphone cameras to capture the otherworldly event which was actually a result of debris being jettisoned from the International Space Station (ISS).
Observers in Sacramento witnessed flaming chunks of communications equipment that were thrown off the ISS in February 2020. The discarded apparatus had been slowly falling to Earth since then, the equipment’s orbit shrinking over time until it was visible to the startled Californians.
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“What you’re seeing is some actually very small objects releasing a lot of energy, very high up, traveling extremely fast,” Jonathan McDown, an astrophysicist at the Smithsonian and Harvard Center for Astrophysics, tells The New York Times.
The equipment was the Inter-orbit Communication System-Exposed Facility; a retired 700-pound communication antenna.
The sight was actually very rare because only 10 percent of equipment such as the antenna will fall all the way back to Earth, rather than just melt. Space junk like this re-enters the atmosphere every few weeks and that’s been the case for the last 50 years.
“They don’t happen very often over any one given place, so it’s always new to the people who see it,” says Dr. McDowell. “For me, it’s just another Tuesday.”
The videos show a pack of fireballs serenely sailing through the clear night sky, despite traveling at an incredible speed of 17,000 miles per hour (27,000 kilometers per hour).
People on the ground hollered and cursed as they tried to determine what they were seeing, many of them suggesting that it could be a UFO.
“Crazy Fireworks. This flew over the brewery tonight. What do you guys think? #UFO,” Writes King Cong Brewing Company, a beer house in Sacramento whose Instagram page shared a video of the phenomenon.
The space debris is predicted to land somewhere near Yosemite National Park, but experts can’t forecast exactly with uncontrolled re-entries of this kind.