What appeared to be a fleet of invading space alien ships above Sacramento and much of Northern California Friday night spurred plenty of Cloverfield chatter, but it was apparently just flying, discarded parts from the International Space Station.
Quite a shock for people in Sacramento who were drunk and/or high on St. Patrick’s Day at roughly 9:30 p.m. on Friday night. As seen below, revelers saw the central California skies alight with lights moving consistent with the appearance of what you’d figure it would look like if aliens were invading planet Earth.
But KPIX confirms the streaks of light were space debris from the International Space Station. “The U.S. Space Force confirmed the re-entry path over California for the Inter-Orbit Communication System,” which had once been part of the International Space Station, KPIX reports. (Yes, that agency still has the Trump-era name “Space Force.”)
“What you saw was the breakup of a communications module that had been attached to the International Space Station,” Chabot Space and Science Center adjunct astronomer Gerald McKeegan told NBC Bay Area in the video above. “In 2020, after they were no longer using it, they detached it and just let it drift in orbit. And eventually that orbit decayed, and it reentered the atmosphere over central California.”
This is ICS-EF, a Japanese communications package for sending data between the ISS Kibo module and Mission Control Tsukuba via the Kodama data relay satellite. It was launched to the ISS on the Space Shuttle in 2009 and had a mass of 310 kg. pic.twitter.com/ygzHdmfQc0— Jonathan McDowell (@planet4589) March 18, 2023
SFGate directs us to the above tweet, which shows us what the contraption looked like before it burned to bits on reentry, thereby creating Friday’s light show.
A mesmerizing display of lights over Northern California on Friday was caused by the re-entry of flaming space debris into Earth’s atmosphere, experts said. The chunks of communications equipment had been jettisoned from the International Space Station. https://t.co/CrZkdV5YSU pic.twitter.com/Zz0IkDcb8j— The New York Times (@nytimes) March 19, 2023
“The hope was that it would reenter on the next orbit, where it would be out over the Pacific Ocean. Most of the earth is covered with water,” McKeegan continued. “This one happened to come down a little earlier than expected.”
But even if it wasn’t an alien invasion, is there any risk this space junk could strike people, or strike areas that could the suffer enormous fires? Astronomers think not.
“Likely, most of it broke up and burned in the atmosphere as it first encountered the thin air at that altitude, and friction caused it to break up and burn apart. And you could clearly see that’s what was happening as they were coming down,” McKeegan said.
Image: ArthurM40330824 via Twitter