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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Matthew Cantor and agencies

Mystery solved after strange lights spotted over California night sky

Weeks after a balloon, an “octagonal structure” and other flying objects put Americans on edge, the US is dealing with another mysterious phenomenon in the sky.

On Friday night in Sacramento, St Patrick’s Day partiers spotted streaks of light blazing a path through the California night. A video posted to Instagram showed what looked like small fireworks or flying superheroes chasing each other along a trail.

Jaime Hernandez was at the King Cong Brewing Company in California’s capital when some among the group noticed the lights. Hernandez quickly began filming. It was over in about 40 seconds, he told the Associated Press on Saturday.

“Mainly, we were 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 owner posted Hernandez’s video to Instagram, asking if anyone could solve the mystery. And for better or for worse, according to a Harvard astronomer, it is unlikely to be an alien invasion or the arrival of Captain Marvel.

Jon McDowell, of the Harvard and Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, told the AP he is 99.9% confident the streaks of light were from burning space debris, flying 40 miles high at thousands of miles per hour.

McDowell told the New York Times the likely culprit was communications equipment dumped from the International Space Station in February 2020. The orbit of the debris had shrunk since then until it was low enough to burn.

“What you’re seeing is some actually very small objects releasing a lot of energy, very high up, traveling extremely fast,” he told the newspaper.

The US space force had confirmed the re-entry path over California for the Inter-orbit Communication System, and the timing was consistent with what people saw in the sky, he added.

In February, Joe Biden said the various flying objects the US had shot down following the appearance of a suspected spy balloon were “most likely” related to the work of private companies or institutions.

Even if this weekend’s sighting has similarly mundane origins, at least viewers got what McDowell called “a spectacular light show in the sky”.

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