The display of lights across the sky over the US Pacific Northwest was probably debris from a SpaceX mission re-entering the atmosphere, the National Weather Service (NWS) has said.
“While we await further confirmation on the details, here’s the unofficial information we have so far. The widely reported bright objects in the sky were the debris from a Falcon 9 rocket 2nd stage,” NWS Seattle tweeted.
Pictures showed thick cluster of glowing dots with blazing trails of light moving slowly across the sky before fizzling out. Social media users speculated the phenomenon might be a meteor shower or even an alien invasion.
NWS Seattle said the sight was more likely to be caused by space debris rather than a meteor or similar object because the latter would be moving far faster, a conclusion backed up by several meteorologists quoted by local media.
Jonathan McDowell from Harvard’s Center for Astrophysics also pointed to the Falcon 9 rocket stage as the source of the firework-like display.
“The Falcon 9 second stage from the Mar 4 Starlink launch failed to make a deorbit burn and is now re-entering after 22 days in orbit,” he tweeted, referring to a rocket launched on March 4 to carry 60 Starlink internet relay satellites into orbit.
A deorbit burn is a firing of a spacecraft’s thrusters to slow the vehicle and begin its descent, according to NASA’s website.
McDowell tweeted that while “we could predict this rocket stage would re-enter today”, the speed at which it was travelling meant it was difficult to predict where it would be seen.
NWS said there were no expected impacts on the ground.
— RealSpaceGeek (@RealSpaceGeek1) March 26, 2021
Residents along the pacific northwest were treated to a light show along the coast. But no, it wasn't aliens.
22 days ago, @SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket that failed to deorbit it's second stage. Last night, it re-entered the atmosphere and burned up.
— Zach Covey (@ZachCoveyTV) March 26, 2021