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Incredible video of flaming space debris captured in California night sky

This image from video provided by Jaime Hernandez shows streaks of light traveling across the sky over the Sacramento area on Friday night, March 17, 2023. | Jaime Hernandez via AP

Mysterious streaks of light were spotted in the sky in the Sacramento area Friday night, shocking St. Patrick's Day revelers, who then posted videos on social media of the incredible sight.

At first, many didn't know what the lights were. Some guessed a meteor, or other natural event.

However, experts now explain that the flaming lights were from burning space debris reentering the Earth's atmosphere.

Video courtesy Danny Franco

Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Smithsonian and Harvard Center for Astrophysics, specifically said the debris was a Japanese communications package that became obsolete and was jettisoned from the International Space Station in 2020. The equipment, weighing 310 kilograms (683 pounds), was dumped because it was taking up valuable space and would burn up completely upon reentry, McDowell added.

Jaime Hernandez was at the King Cong Brewing Company in Sacramento for a St. Patrick's Day celebration when some among the group noticed the lights. Hernandez quickly began filming. It was over in about 40 seconds, he said Saturday.

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"Mainly, we were in shock, but amazed that we got to witness it," Hernandez said in an email. "None of us had ever seen anything like it."

The flaming bits of wreckage created a "spectacular light show in the sky," McDowell said. He estimated the debris was about 40 miles high, going thousands of miles per hour.

The U.S. Space Force confirmed the reentry path over California for the Inter-Orbit Communication System, and the timing is consistent with what people saw in the sky, he added.