‘Space Junk’ May Have Crashed in Yosemite After Streaking Across California’s Night Sky

Photo by Kevin Chen

Streaks of bright lights spotted across the sky in California on St. Patrick’s Day left many people in awe and questioning what they were. Now, we know exactly what it was and it may have landed near Yosemite National Park.

Many people posted on social media about the unusual phenomenon. However, Harvard-Smithsonian Center astrophysicist Dr. Jonathan McDowell cleared up the mystery, stating that the lights were not caused by aliens but rather old space debris.

The lights were from a piece of equipment that used to be bolted on the International Space Station. The equipment in question was a Japanese radio antenna that relayed data from the Japanese Space Station Module to a deep space communications satellite and then down to Tokyo. It was approximately 3 to 5 feet long and was installed on the International Space Station in 2009. The device was retired in 2017 and became “space junk,” jolted into space from the space station in 2020.

Now, astronomers believe the space junk could have landed in Yosemite, but are still not exactly sure where it entered the earth’s atmosphere at 17,000 mph. Most of the metal would have burned up upon reentry into the atmosphere, but according to McDowell, small bits could have landed in Yosemite.

“I’m guessing somewhere in the Yosemite area there might be a few melted pieces of Japanese equipment littering the ground.”

That means that you may come across the “space junk” you watched fly across the night sky on St. Patrick’s Day on your next hike in Yosemite. Now, wouldn’t that be interesting.

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