HONOLULU — Reports of a cluster of blinking lights traveling across Hawaii’s weekend night sky were likely caused by a rocket booster reentering the planet’s atmosphere, scientists said.
Astronomers said there is a high probability the booster pierced Earth’s atmosphere after orbiting for 12 years, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Tuesday.
Spectators posted photos and videos on social media of the lights that appeared Saturday night.
The booster identified by scientists was used to launch Venezuela’s communications satellite VENESAT-1 from China in October 2008.
The booster was in a low orbit and eventually slowed and reentered the atmosphere at about 10 p.m., said Roy Gal, associate astronomer of the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
An aerospace company tracked and predicted the reentry of the booster, which correlated with Saturday’s reentry window, Gal said.
Some observers thought they may have spotted Starlink satellites launched by Space Exploration Technologies Corp., better known as SpaceX, the company found by Billionaire Elon Musk that has sent broadband internet satellites into orbit.
Others wondered whether they saw a meteor shower or a UFO.
What residents actually saw was the rocket body heating during reentry and breaking into pieces, Gal said.
“The friction from the atmosphere makes it glow and burn,” Gal said.
The Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope atop Mauna Kea captured an image of the rocket booster streaking across the sky.
John O’Meara, chief scientist of the W.M. Keck Observatory, said the booster traveled at more than 20,000 mph (32,187 kph) before it disintegrated over the Pacific Ocean.
“Space junk” enters the atmosphere all the time, O’Meara said.
“We just usually don’t see it because we’re not in the right space to see it,” O’Meara said.