Videos Show 'Meteor' Over Oregon, Washington That Was Likely Falcon 9 Rocket Debris

People across the Pacific Northwest reported seeing streaks of mysterious bright lights gliding across the sky on Thursday night, with some believing they had spotted a meteor or a crashing aircraft.

But experts have said the lights were probably actually caused by debris from a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket burning up in Earth's atmosphere.

The suspected debris can be seen in one video posted to Twitter by the Salem Police Department in Oregon. The department said it had received "many, many calls" about the incident.

One Twitter user who filmed the incident, @kaallori, speculated in a post that she might have seen a "meteor."

"I don't know what that was, but it was spectacular."

Yes, #salemoregon, we saw it too! It occurred at about 2059.

Dispatch received many, many calls. Salem Airport tower is aware. Per the tower, anyone with questions or wanting to submit video can contact the FAA.

— Salem Police Department (@SalemPoliceDept) March 26, 2021

She said she saw the lights from Cannon Beach in Oregon, adding that she was "completely stunned."

In her video, a voice can be heard saying: "I've never seen anything like that."

Another Twitter user, @lynseylou, also captured footage of the event, suggesting that she might have seen a meteor shower.

The American Meteor Society received more than 40 reports of a fireball seen over Oregon, Washington state and British Columbia, Canada at around 9 p.m. PT on March 25.

Others who saw the strange lights thought they were caused by a crashing aircraft.

Meteor? I don’t know what that was, but it was spectacular. @KATUNews @CNN @MSNBC @fox12weather @NBCNews

— Krissy (@kaallori) March 26, 2021

"We thought it was a plane exploding because it didn't look like a meteor, and from our perspective was in the line of sight of flight paths from #SeaTac [Seattle-Tacoma airport] but we saw people posting it was a #meteor," Michelle Zimmerman wrote on Twitter.

Another Twitter user, @ayers_rachelle, posted a video of the lights in which someone can be heard speculating that the lights were an "airplane."

"It was stunning, beautiful, and scary all at the same time. People stopped on the freeway! Me included," @ayers_rachelle wrote.

But experts have said the lights were likely caused by space junk falling back to Earth.

I saw it as well here in the Rock Creek area!

— Matthew Hilton (@MatthewDTHilton) March 26, 2021

Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer with the Harvard–Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who tracks space objects, said on Twitter that the lights were caused by debris from a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket stage—weighing about 3 tonnes and measuring around 23 feet long—re-entering Earth's atmosphere.

The rocket had launched on March 4 in order to deploy a batch of Starlink internet satellites in low-Earth orbit.

McDowell said the original intention was for the SpaceX rocket stage to de-orbit and "immolate itself" over the ocean south of Australia in order to be disposed of safely.

"They haven't yet solved the trick of returning upper stages safely for reuse," he posted.

But the astronomer said the rocket stage "failed to make a de-orbit burn," which is the firing of the engines of a spacecraft before making a descent into the Earth's atmosphere.

The Falcon 9 second stage from the Mar 4 Starlink launch failed to make a deorbit burn and is now reentering after 22 days in orbit. Its reentry was observed from the Seattle area at about 0400 UTC Mar 26.

— Jonathan McDowell (@planet4589) March 26, 2021

McDowell said the strange lights appeared to be moving slower than a meteor and were broken up into multiple parallel trails.

"Classic space debris reentry," he said.

The National Weather Service in Seattle also said a Falcon 9 rocket second stage was likely responsible for the light show above the Northwest, although the agency added that it was awaiting "further confirmation."

"This looks more likely than a bolide meteor or similar object as they would be moving far faster on impact with our atmosphere. There are NO expected impacts on the ground in our region at this time."

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches at Launch Complex 39A May 30, 2020, at the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida. SpaceX via Getty Images

Correction 03/26/2021, 10:34 a.m. ET: This article has been updated to reflect the fact that SpaceX's original intention was for the rocket stage to de-orbit over the ocean south of Australia, according to McDowell.