Scientists say ‘strange lights’ over Hawaii were likely a rocket from nearly 12 years ago

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HONOLULU (KHON) — Scientists in Hawaii say bright lights seen over Honolulu on Saturday night were likely the remnants of a rocket booster from nearly 12 years ago, according to KHON.

Several people on different islands reported that they saw these lights in the sky shortly after 10 p.m. Saturday.

“I started videotaping, and when they got closer, I start freaking out because I’m like, ‘Oh, what in the world is this?'” said Molokai resident Kuuip Kanawaliwali.

“We actually didn’t even know what to think. We didn’t know what it was, where it came from,” said Sheri English, who also lives on Molokai. “It just appeared. It was actually very eerie, eerie feeling.”

Experts from the Mauna Kea observatories offered explanation of the bright lights.

“So in all likelihood, what they saw last night was the reentry of a rocket booster that was from a rocket that was launched in 2008 … a Chinese rocket that was boosting up a communication satellite for Venezuela,” Chief Scientist John O’Meara, of the W. M. Keck Observatory, told KHON.

Over the past 12 years, the rocket booster decayed. Astronomers found a map of the object’s flight path, which was near Hawaii.

“So we can’t be 100% certain because we don’t have any of the pieces of the debris. But the pattern of the lights that we saw in our timelapse combined with this map,” said Canada France Hawaii Telescope Strategic Communications Director Mary Beth Laychak. “This flight path and the precision at which all of these companies are able to estimate where their objects will enter and how they’ll break up is what really leads us to believe that this was this Venesat-1 reentering the atmosphere.”

Venesat-1 was launched on a Chinese carrier rocket on Oct. 29, 2008. The satellite has been out of service since March 2020.

The Canada France Hawaii Telescope shared video and still images of the light show Saturday.

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