Strange lights in SoCal sky: Chinese space junk put on celestial show while reentering atmosphere

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What exactly were those celestial lights that streaked across the Southern California sky overnight Monday?

By midday Tuesday, experts including Smithsonian astronomer Jonathan McDowell and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute said the objects in the sky were the remains of the Chinese Shenzhou 15 orbital module.

The lights were visible over most of the region around 1:30 a.m. Videos showed what appears to be a cluster of objects hurtling over the area — what some thought was possibly a cluster of meteorites or more likely some type of object breaking up as it plummeted toward the Earth.

Many took to social media to get answers about the origin of the lights.

Theories about the bright objects include Chinese spacecraft, SpaceX debris or, of course, aliens.

Some speculated it was a possible meteor or comet, while others thought it could be debris from the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that took off from Vandenberg Space Force Base Monday evening. But that launch occurred around 7:30 p.m., long before the mystery lights appeared.

Southern California got a glimpse of yet another SpaceX launch Monday night that lit up the sky.

Online speculators seemed to coalesce Tuesday around the idea that some type of space junk such as an old rocket booster had simply fallen to Earth, breaking up as it re-entered the atmosphere and creating the impressive display.

The Chinese orbital module launched into space in November 2022, carrying three astronauts who spent six months at the Tiangong space station. The module had been predicted to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere early Tuesday morning.

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