Last month, a telescope camera on Mauna Kea, Hawaii’s tallest mountain, captured something strange: a wall of green lasers visibly shooting across the sky.
The light show, which has been described as resembling code green from The matrix, occurred on January 28 and was captured by a camera operated by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ). Initially, NAOJ said in a YouTube video that the lasers came from NASA’s ICESat-2 satellite, which maps and measures the Earth’s surface in three-dimensional detail to track sea ice and forests. If it were ICESat-2, the lasers would come from its ATLAS (Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter) instrument, which emits laser beams which, according to NASA, are “bright green on the visible spectrum”.
Mystery put to bed? Think again. On Feb. 6, NOAJ updated the video’s YouTube description with a startling notice: NASA has confirmed that its satellite was not the source of the green lasers over Hawaii. Rather, it was a Chinese satellite.
“According to Dr. Martino, Anthony J., a NASA scientist working on ICESat-2 ATLAS, it is not by their instrument but by others,” the update reads. “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 ACDL instrument by the Chinese satellite Daqi-1/AEMS. We “We really appreciate their efforts in identifying the light. We apologize for our confusion related to this event and its potential impact on the ICESat-2 team.”
Video of green lasers over Hawaii and the likelihood that a Chinese satellite, even for scientific research, was the source caused a stir on social media. Tensions run high after the United States shot down an alleged Chinese spy balloonwhich China says was intended for civilian research.
Daqi-1 was launched last year and serves a similar purpose to ICESat-2, being designed to monitor air pollution using lasers.
“Daqi-1 can monitor fine particle pollution like PM2.5, polluting gases including nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and ozone, as well as carbon dioxide concentration,” a press release 2021 of the state-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation. According to the agency, China plans to develop more Daqi satellites for environmental observation.