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Burning Space Junk Creates Mysterious Lights in California Sky

Flaming space debris re-entering the Earth's atmosphere caused a light show in Northern California last week, but experts say it was probably chunks of discarded communication equipment from the International Space Station burning up as they re-entered the atmosphere. The equipment consisted of a 683-pound antenna that was decommissioned in 2017, and was jettisoned into orbit in 2020, circling the Earth until its orbit got small enough for it to re-enter the atmosphere. This happens frequently but humans may not always notice because the re-entry often occurs over the ocean. Space junk is increasingly becoming a problem, with trillions of pieces of “orbital debris” traveling at high speeds in Earth's vicinity.

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Photo Credit: Steven Pahel

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