PHOTO: Mysterious Light Blazes Across the North Carolina Sky

by Taylor Cunningham
(Photo by Red Huber/Getty Images)

A mysterious light that blazed through the skies of North Carolina on Saturday sent the internet abuzz with excitement and chatter about a possible astronomical phenomenon—or aliens. But the cause of the light was nothing Earth-shattering. It was simply the latest SpaceX launch.

The blast shot through the sky during the evening hours of Sept. 24. And pictures of the event quickly spread through the major social media channels.

The photos show an impressive yellow beam illuminating the night while leaving a trail in its wake. Others caught smoke dissipating into the clouds.

And the source of the commotion was something that people will soon grow used to, the Falcom 9 rocket. Around 7:30 PM that night, Elon Musk’s prized craft launched from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. And it was topped with over 50 Starlink satellites. On its way to the cosmos, the rocket passed over North Carolina and gave curious residents a show.

“On our way back from Wilmington earlier tonight,” Anessa Shaffer posted on Facebook. “Caught the rocket over the skies near Leland on 17. Was something to see. Even caught what looked like a fireball or something coming from it near the tree line. Watched it fall from the sky.

“Never have seen anything so distinct like this,” Rich Bell wrote.

Fireball Over North Carolina Skies Will Become a Common Sight

Starlink satellites transmit the internet to customers around the world. And Musk is planning to expand his service by the thousands in only a few short years. But the Tesla giant isn’t the only person planning on shooting more satellites into space.

Earlier this month, a Starlink craft caused a similar commotion when it deorbited a day earlier than expected and caused a fireball to fly through Europe. Starlink crafts only survive for up to five years in space. And when they age out, they drop back to Earth. But instead of crashing, they disintegrate when they hit Earth’s atmosphere.

As John Maclean, an astronomer with the UK Meteor Network explained, “we are likely to see more of these fireballs given the number of satellites that Musk, and others, including Amazon, are putting up.”

In September of last year, the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs wrote that there were 7,500 satellites in orbit. But Maclean said that several companies are gearing up to send tens of thousands more. In a few years, he predicts that there will be an “excess of 40,000” satellites orbiting the planet. And when they start streaking through the sky on a regular basis, they will ultimately “cause  great problems for astronomers.”