China's Green Space Lasers in Hawaii—What We Do Know, What We Don't

The response to the appearance of several flying objects pictured over U.S. soil has sparked questions over potential foreign presence in domestic airspace.

As the White House responded to incidents in Michigan and Alaska, a video has been shared across social media suggesting Chinese satellites had begun projecting lasers into U.S. territory.

A tweet sent by user @Terror_ALarm, on February 9, 2023, which included a copy of the video stated: "ALERT🚨 As if the balloon was not enough, a Chinese 'environment monitoring' satellite beams green lasers from space over #Hawaii."

Another tweet, by @hodgetwins, posted February 10, 2023, which has been viewed more than 6.2 million times, added to the sense of insecurity, stating: "China is shining green lasers down to Earth from space from their satellites, this was near Hawaii. This doesn't seem good."

Satellite lasers Hawaii
Pictured here, people in a forest illuminated by laser lights during a laser party in a forest near Bucharest May 14, 2011. A video of green lasers shooting down from the sky over Hawaii was shared widely online, leading to speculation amid the appearances of flying objects over the U.S. DANIEL MIHAILESCU//AFP via Getty Images

The full video was shared on YouTube showing what looked like a wall of vertical green lights.

First posted in late January 2023, the official Twitter account of the Subaru Telescope, an 8.2-meter [26.9-foot], optical-infrared telescope on Maunakea, Hawaii, stated it had "captured green laser lights in the cloudy sky over Maunakea, Hawai'i.

"The lights are thought to be from a remote-sensing altimeter satellite ICESAT-2/43613."

A description under the video stated: "Last night (early morning 2023-1-28 HST) was cloudy on Maunakea. But our Subaru-Asahi Star Camera captured quite an interesting view—green laser lights coming from the sky! It was only a second or less—but our keen viewers did not miss the event!

"That was so a mysterious view, then later the viewers got a conclusion from the information on the net—it could be a remote-sensing laser (altimeter called ATLAS) from ICESat-2/43613."

ICESat-2, (standing for Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite-2), is a NASA satellite that uses "laser pulses to measure the elevation of Earth's surface."

A few days later, however, the team left another message underneath its YouTube video stating that: "According to Dr. Martino, Anthony J., a NASA scientist working on ICESat-2 ATLAS, it is not by their instrument but by others.

"His colleagues, Dr. Alvaro Ivanoff et al., did a simulation of the trajectory of satellites that have a similar instrument and found a most likely candidate as the [...] instrument by the Chinese Daqi-1/AEMS satellite."

What Is the Daqi-1?

This, it seems, is where the claims about Chinese satellite systems projecting lasers into U.S. territory came from. And some of them have been more alarmist than others.

For instance, "preparedness and survival website" Offgrid Survival published an article on February 9, 2023, with the headline "Chinese Satellites now firing lasers over Hawaii in the latest provocation," which said: "China has been working on directed energy weapons (DEW) or EMP attacks."

The assessment made by NASA researchers that it was caused by China's Daqi-1 satellite, if true, could suggest that there was nothing nefarious or threatening, even if the display itself was unusual.

As reported by NASA elsewhere, the Daqi-1, which was launched in April 2022, is a "Chinese atmospheric environment monitoring satellite."

The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), a state-owned research & development company that developed the satellite, explained in a March 2021 press release that the Daqi-1 was "China's first satellite dedicated to comprehensive monitoring of the atmospheric environment."

"Daqi-1 can monitor fine particle pollution like PM2.5, pollutant gases including nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and ozone, as well as carbon dioxide concentration," the CASC article added.

"It combines both passive and active sensing, which can realize comprehensive monitoring of the atmospheric environment in a better way [...]."

Official data and information on Daqi-1 is limited. According to an article posted by ScienceAlert, the satellite includes an "Aerosol and Carbon dioxide Detection Lidar."

"Lidar is an acronym for laser imaging, detection, and ranging, and it works a little like sonar. But instead of sending out sound waves to map an area, it sends out laser beams.

"And it's these lasers that are believed to have lit up the sky over Hawaii at the end of January."

CASC mentioned that China plans to produce a series of Daqi satellites in the future which will be used to monitor "atmospheric pollution, provide remote sensing data support for environment authorities, and also support scientific research into global climate change."