People across the Pacific Northwest were both astonished and frightened by a spectacular event in the sky that you don’t see every day. It appeared to be a meteor shower, and some citizens even came with more wild ideas involving extraterrestrial beings.
Thanks to LiveScience.com, there’s now an explanation for the mysterious phenomenon. The Seattle branch of the National Weather Service (NWS) stated:
The widely reported bright objects in the sky were the debris from a Falcon 9 rocket 2nd stage that did not successfully have a deorbit burn,
Based on the observed video, this looks more likely than a bolide meteor or similar object, as they would be moving far faster on impact with our atmosphere.
The Falcon 9 second stage from the Mar 4 Starlink launch failed to make a deorbit burn and is now reentering after 22 days in orbit. Its reentry was observed from the Seattle area at about 0400 UTC Mar 26. pic.twitter.com/FQrBrUoBHh
— Jonathan McDowell (@planet4589) March 26, 2021
As the Harvard astronomer Jonathan McDowell reveals, the debris most likely belongs to a Falcon 9 rocket that was launched on March 4 to deliver new Starlink satellites into orbit. He explains that the second stage of the rocket that launched several weeks ago failed in its attempt to make a deorbit burn after the Starlink satellites were launched. After it drifted for three weeks in the atmosphere, the rocket debris began falling, breaking apart and creating an impressive explosion.
The NWS emphasized that there is no risk that any of the debris will make it through the atmosphere intact and cause any damage. Big chunks of space junk frequently disintegrate in the atmosphere, as McDowell also pointed out.
SpaceX will continue sending Starlink satellites above the Earth’s atmosphere with the purpose of providing fast internet access for remote regions across the world. The goal is to send 12,000 satellites in total, although the number could be extended to 42,000.