A still image captured by a camera on the Subaru Telescope in Hawaii shows the cloudy night sky with a curtain of individual downward streaks of green laser light.

These oddball green streaks of light came from a satellite. 
Subaru Telescope/NAOJ

On Jan. 28, a series of green lights zipped across the night sky in Hawaii. The Subaru Telescope on Mauna Kea captured footage of the unusual sight with its livestreaming Subaru-Asahi Star Camera. While the lights might have conjured concerns about UFOs, they actually have a satellite-related explanation.

Subaru Telescope shared a video of the lights showing several different versions of the rare view, including a contrast-enhanced look that helps them stand out against the cloudy sky. “The lights are thought to be from a remote-sensing altimeter satellite ICESat-2/43613,” the telescope team tweeted on Monday.

NASA’s Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2) launched in late 2018. It shoots laser pulses at Earth to measure our planet’s surface. It’s helping scientists track changes in ice sheets, sea ice, glaciers and forests. The satellite’s laser color is bright green. The cloudy skies in Hawaii helped the laser pop out, much like a fog machine at a light show. 

The National Astronomical Observatory of Japan operates the telescope, which has also witnessed some other strange sights in the sky, including a “whirlpool” caused by a SpaceX rocket. The whirlpool and the green streaks might look bizarre and otherworldly, but both come from human ingenuity and effort. No aliens involved.

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