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Celestial Spectacle: California Light Show Caused by Re-entering Chinese Spacecraft

Early Tuesday morning, residents of California witnessed a dazzling display of light streaking across the night sky, sparking a wave of speculation. Theories ranged from UFO sightings to meteor showers, but the truth behind the phenomenon turned out to be a piece of human-made space debris.

Streaking Lights Baffle Californians

On April 2nd, shortly after 1:30 AM, a fiery object blazed a trail through the atmosphere, visible from Sacramento all the way down to San Diego [1, 2]. The American Meteor Society (AMS) received over 80 reports from observers across the state, all describing a similar sight [2].

Space Junk Identified

Expert analysis quickly debunked the idea of an extraterrestrial origin. Astrophysicist and satellite tracker Jonathan McDowell identified the culprit as the orbital module of China’s Shenzhou 15 spacecraft re-entering Earth’s atmosphere [1, 3].

Shenzhou 15 Makes Fiery Return

The Shenzhou 15 mission launched in November 2022, carrying three astronauts to China’s Tiangong space station for a six-month stay [2]. After completing its service, the orbital module, a 3,300-pound component, detached and began its descent back to Earth, ultimately burning up over California [3].

Not the First, Not the Last

While this event provided a dramatic light show, it also highlights the growing issue of space debris. Discarded spacecraft parts and defunct satellites pose a potential danger and contribute to the clutter orbiting our planet [4].

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