It is a bird! It is a plane! No, they are … pieces of a SpaceX rocket?
The unidentified falling objects that lit up the night sky from Oregon to Canada on Thursday appear to be debris from the Falcon 9 from a launch three weeks ago.
Sky watchers in the Pacific Northwest noticed bright streaks of light slowly raining down on their heads shortly before 9 p.m. local time, and midnight ET Thursday. Several posted photos and videos of the heavenly spectacle, marveling at whether it was a meteor shower or worrying whether it was something more sinister, such as a plane crash.
So what was it?
The unofficial explanation from astronomers and meteorologists is that it was harmless rocket debris. SpaceX, which was founded by Tesla TSLA,
CEO Elon Musk launched a Falcon 9 rocket from Florida just over three weeks ago to bring 60 Starlink satellites into low Earth orbit. It appears that the top end or second stage of the rocket, which should re-enter Earth’s atmosphere and burn within an orbit or two after launch, did not complete its desorbiting burnout as expected.
“It’s been waiting to fall for the last three weeks, and we were lucky and it went out of our minds,” astronomer James Davenport of the University of Washington told local NBC affiliate KINGS.
Fellow astronomer Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics also identified it as remnants of the Falcon 9 rocket. He tweeted that it “failed to make an deorbit burn out and is now re-entering after 22 days in orbit,” noting that “its reentry was observed from the Seattle area. ”
This prompted many followers to share their own images of the unexpected light show in a growing thread under your post. Many described it as “staggering”, although some expressed initial concern that it was a more dire incident, such as an airplane explosion.
The Seattle National Weather Service also identified that the debris likely came from the second stage of the Falcon 9 rocket, securing followers on Twitter that “there are no expected impacts on the ground in our region at this time.”
Take a look at some of the awesome videos below.
SpaceX has not claimed responsibility for the unexpected light show, and representatives from NASA’s SpaceX media relations department were not immediately available for comment.