Bright streaks of light seen across Southern California and beyond Wednesday night — leading many to speculate about their origin on social media — might actually have been space junk from a Chinese rocket launched last month, an expert said.
Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts tweeted that the fireball was debris from a Chinese rocket launched June 25.
McDowell told the Los Angeles Times that the rocket reentered over Utah about 9:40 p.m. and was likely traveling about 18,000 mph.
KTLA was getting calls and messages on social media from all over Los Angeles and elsewhere of the bright lights zooming in the sky.
The spectacle came a day before a meteor shower was expected to be seen across North America. The Delta Aquarids peak this week with the brightest streaks of light crossing our skies Thursday and Friday.
This meteor shower is best seen north of the equator, and should be visible to those in North America. Peak times to watch are late in the evening and during predawn hours, weather and cloud coverage permitting.
Officials at the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City and Nevada were also responding to people on Twitter who had seen the majestic lights Wednesday night.
A spokesman for U.S. Strategic Command told the Times the agency would not provide details of what might have actually happened until Thursday.
Observation reports from Utah indicate the second stage from the first Chang Zheng 7 rocket, launched Jun 25, reentered at 0440 UTC
— Jonathan McDowell (@planet4589) July 28, 2016
— Jeff Sullivan Photo (@JeffSullPhoto) July 28, 2016
— Dave (not the banking app or TV show) Moreno (@aeromat) July 28, 2016