Bright, long streaks of light soared across the sky from Utah to California, stunning residents who got an unexpected show Wednesday night.
Theories over the stunning, mystery lights were many. Witnesses posted their videos on social media asking the burning question: What the heck was that? Was it a meteor? A missile? Evidence of extraterrestrial life?
One theory that gained the most traction was confirmed by a spokesman for U.S. Strategic Command, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.
The streak of light was the remnants from a Chinese CZ-7 rocket, department spokesman Lt. Col. Martin L. O’Donnell said, according to the Times. The rocket reentered the atmosphere over Northern America near California at 9:36 p.m. PT.
On Wednesday night, witnesses shared their images and videos on social media, as well as their amazement over the sight.
“We saw the most ridiculous fireball in the sky,” said Ian Norman, another photographer, in a personal video account of what he saw from the slopes of the Sierra Nevada.
He shot a video that showed what looked to be two bright, burning streaks flying across the horizon.
— Ian Norman (@iaminorman) July 28, 2016
An astronomer at the Havard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics chimed in on Twitter Wednesday night, saying that the Chinese rocket had launched on June 25.
In response to questions about how he arrived at that conclusion, later confirmed by U.S. Strategic Command, Jonathan McDowell said he had “looked for objects near reentry” and had calculated ground track versus time, and saw that the Chang Zheng 7 was over Utah at the time.
China had launched the rocket to deliver a prototype shuttle into space. Its developers had touted the rocket as “more environmentally friendly,” producing less pollution than previous models.
A similar incident occurred in December 2015, when the body of Russian rocket re-entered the atmosphere, creating bright lights from Las Vegas to Ventura.
If you missed the light show, don’t worry. You can catch the Delta Aquarids meteor shower Thursday and Friday night over much of North America.
— 🧗♂️ Matt Holt (@mholt6) July 28, 2016
— Jeff Sullivan Photo (@JeffSullPhoto) July 28, 2016