Streaks of green light that lit up the night sky over Hawaii in January were likely lasers from a Chinese satellite, a NASA scientist said. The revelation came just as airborne objects – Chinese and otherwise – began to be shot out of the sky earlier in February.
The lights were captured on video early on Jan. 28 during a livestream of the night sky. Parallel lines of green light quickly flashed one-by-one across the sky in footage from the Subaru-Asahi Star Camera, perched on the dormant volcano Mauna Kea.
According to the video’s description, livestream viewers initially suggested the lights came from the NASA satellite ICESAT-2, which shoots laser pulses at the Earth to scan its landscape. But days later, NASA itself came to a different conclusion.
An update to the video’s description stated that the “most likely candidate” behind the green lights over Hawaii is the Chinese Daqi-1 satellite, according to NASA scientist Dr. Anthony Martino. That satellite is equipped with an “aerosol and carbon detection lidar” instrument that, according to an international database, pulses lasers in a sequence to measure carbon dioxide.
“We are sorry about our confusion related to this event and its potential impact on the ICESat-2 team,” the update said. The YouTube channel is managed by researchers with the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan.
Martino’s colleagues determined it was the Chinese satellite partially via “a simulation of the trajectory of satellites that have a similar instrument” to ICESAT-2’s laser system, according to the description.
The clarification from NASA came on Feb. 6, two days after the U.S. shot down a Chinese surveillance balloon that had made a shocking, nearly week-long voyage across the country. Less than a week later, U.S. jets shot down three more unidentified “objects” in as many days in North American airspace, but details on those remain unclear.
The Daqi-1 satellite was launched in April as the first in a series of Chinese satellites aiming to monitor atmospheric gasses and pollution, according to NASASpaceFlight.com.