Residents startled by sight visible from prefectural capital.

On Wednesday night, residents of Okinawa looked up and saw something startling. A streak of fiery light was moving across the darkened sky, heading from west to east.

The light became visible in the prefectural capital of Naha at around 8:30, and was clearly trailing behind some sort of flying or falling object.

This wasn’t a momentary flash, either, as onlookers watched the streak for several minutes. It was bright enough that it could be easily seen from street level, even in downtown Naha.

Considering North Korea’s penchant for firing missiles over Japan, some were troubled by the sight. However, Japanese scientists say what they were seeing wasn’t a new North Korean launch, but most likely the effects of a Chinese rocket launch from last year. On November 5, China sent up a Long March 3B rocket carrying a satellite to be put into orbit. The project was a one-way trip, but it wasn’t until this week that certain parts of the rocket would fall back into earth’s atmosphere. Researchers at Okinawa’s Ishigakijima Astronomical Observatory projected that to happen just around the time people in Okinawa started seeing the light in the sky, and judging by the light’s specific position, the scientists believe what people were observing was the debris catching fire during reentry.

▼ Video of the Chinese rocket’s launch last November

Surprising as it may have been, researchers and officials say the debris posed no security or safety threat to Japan, and no reports have been made of any related injuries or property damage.

Sources: NHK News Web, Nitele News, NSF
Top image: Pakutaso
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