Mystery solved: ‘Light show’ in sky surprises Hawaii residents

Local News

A light show in the sky had folks talking overnight.

Our newsroom started getting calls and emails around 11 p.m. Sunday of what some viewers described as a “meteor shower” in the southeastern sky.

People from Kona to Hilo, and Hawaii Kai to Ewa Beach, all reported seeing the same lights in the sky going from south to north.

Dr. Eugene Stansbery of the NASA Orbital Debris Program Office said that “according to information released by the Dept. of Defense’s Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, the object was likely the Cosmos 1315 payload launched in 1981.”

“This one is actually a surveillance satellite and had been launched way back in October of 1981, so it had been up there for decades before it came down over the Pacific,” said Mike Shanahan, Bishop Museum planetarium director. “It’s a slow decay for most of these satellites, but sooner or later, unless you have some way of boosting your spacecraft as with the space station, they will slowly decay and eventually burn up when they hit the atmosphere of the earth.”

Shanahan says satellites return to Earth all the time, but this time, its size helped create a spectacular show.

“It was a really big satellite. It’s over two tons, and so all that matter hitting the atmosphere and burning up created quite a light show for parts of the Hawaiian islands,” he said.

Shanahan says the satellite no longer poses a threat, because it breaks up as it passes through the atmosphere and now “it’s all in tiny burned up pieces… It’s probably deep in the ocean at this point in time.”

He says scientists are constantly tracking and monitoring space debris.

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