Updated: 3:26 PM PDT, March 29, 2021
The brilliant sight that was captured by spectators over Oregon’s night sky wasn’t an alien invasion after all, but most likely debris from a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that apparently did not have a successful deorbit burn, according to some astronomers, a report said.
(Note: A deorbit burn takes place when a spaceship fires its engine before re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere, according to a report.)
Although experts are still determining precisely what the object was, witnesses who saw the bright streaks of light shoot through the night sky were in awe and described it as a “once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
On Thursday evening, the excitement began when reports of a mysterious object in the sky came in from various places in the Northwest and as far north as Seattle. The sighting was captured on video about 9 p.m., reported ABC2 News.
One witness told KATU that the streaks of light looked like a helicopter that may have been coming in low, and then it broke up into hundreds of lights that streaked across the sky.
“Absolutely crazy,” said another witness, who said just happened to be on a walk with his wife when he saw the wonder in the sky.
Dr. Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Center for Astrophysics, Harvard & Smithsonian, told the news outlet that they’ve “been expecting this rocket stage to re-enter sometime in the next few hours,” and confirmed that it was “classic space debris breakup.”
He added that after he checked the orbit data and did a quick calculation, he was able to conclude that it was indeed what he thought it was: “Yes, at pretty much exactly 9 p.m. Pacific, it would’ve been over the Pacific Northwest.”
Although fascinating to most, McDowell pointed out that it was not so ‘unusual.’
“Something like this happens about once somewhere in the world,” said McDowell who estimated that it was about a three-ton rocket stage. “The key thing here was that it was in a very populated area of the U.S. at a time of night when a lot of people are out and about and looking up and so it was widely seen.”
He did admit though “it was a particularly good one’,” before he went on and spoke about some monumental space reentries, including the Skylab space station that came over Australia in 1979 that was 70 tons. And, the eight-ton burn over the Pacific a few years ago, KATU reported.
Meanwhile, Dr. James Davenport, research assistant professor of astronomy at the University of Washington, told NBC News affiliate King 5 that the debris was indeed part of the SpaceX rocket, which launched in early March, adding that the rocket “did not come down where we expected it to.” He said the debris was likely about 30 miles into the atmosphere and it was unlikely that any substantial pieces would reach the ground.
“And so it’s been waiting to fall for the last three weeks and we got lucky and [it] came right over our heads,” Davenport said.
He added, “We got a really good show tonight, I think, thanks to SpaceX,”