HONOLULU (KHON2) — Japanese and local astronomers said a Chinese satellite has been caught on video beaming down green lasers over the Hawaiian Islands.
A National Astronomical Observatory of Japan livestream camera atop the Subaru Telescope on Mauna Kea recorded the footage in late January.
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The lasers flashed for just a couple of seconds and were initially thought to be from a NASA altimeter satellite. The NAOJ put out a correction note on Monday, Feb. 6 that said NASA scientists:
“…did a simulation of the trajectory of satellites that have a similar instrument and found a most likely candidate as the ACDL instrument by the Chinese Daqi-1/AEMS satellite.”National Astronomical Observatory of Japan
KHON2 talked to a University of Hawaii astronomer who read up on AEMS instruments.
“It’s a Chinese satellite that is measuring pollutants, among other things, it has many different instruments on it,” said UH Institute of Astronomy associate astronomer Roy Gal. “Some kind of topographical mapping or they’re also used for measuring stuff in Earth’s atmosphere, and I think that’s what it is, environmental measurement satellite.”
KHON2 also sat down with the former chief of staff of Marine Forces Pacific — he had some questions.
Both experts said the object is not explicitly a spy satellite; It is cataloged and known by governments around the world.
“The U.S. has satellites to do the same thing, so, in this case, despite all the flurry, well deserved flurry, about Chinese spy satellites and other devices, this one is just orbiting earth and has a known orbit,” Gal said.
The footage from Mauna Kea was taken on Saturday, Jan. 28, prior to the recent incident where a Chinese balloon traversed over the mainland U.S. before being shot down off the coast of South Carolina.
KHON2 asked L’Heureux, how much can the Chinese military see?
“They can shut down any communications nodes that they want if they believe that the public is getting too much information. So yeah, I think it’s more probably military than everything else, that’s, that makes sense,” L’Heureux said.
Gal said the Chinese satellite does not pose a risk to locals or Hawaii.
“No, it’s not a risk to Hawaii or anyplace else, too. We have aircraft making these measurements all the time. If you’ve seen topographical maps with high precision, those are made using sometimes this kind of thing,” Gal said.
“It seems to me that those tensions are there. People are a little antsy, and I think that we just need to be a little bit more aware, vigilant,” L’Heureux said.
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KHON2 reached out to the United States Space Force to see how often Chinese satellites scan Hawaii airspace and if there’s been an explanation from China, officials are working on a response.