Wall of Green Lasers Blankets Sky in Hawai'i, Likely From Chinese Satellite

The National Astronomical Observatory of Japan has said that NASA believes the bright green lasers were likely from a Chinese satellite.
Wall of Green Lasers Blanket Sky in Hawai'i, Likely Chinese Satellite
Screengrab: YouTube/NOAJ

Last month, a camera from a telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawai'i's tallest mountain, captured something eerie: a wall of green lasers visibly shooting across the sky. 

The light show, which has been described as resembling the green code from The Matrix, occurred on January 28 and was caught by a camera operated by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ). Initially, NAOJ said in a YouTube video that the lasers had come from NASA's ICESat-2 satellite, which maps and measures Earth's surface in three-dimensional detail to keep track of sea ice and forests. If it was ICESat-2, the lasers would have come from its Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter (ATLAS) instrument, which emits laser beams that NASA says are "bright green on the visible spectrum." 


Mystery put to bed? Think again. On February 6, NOAJ updated the video's YouTube description with a stunning notice: NASA confirmed that its satellite was not the source of the green lasers over Hawai'i. Rather, it was most likely 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 stated. "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 Daqi-1/AEMS satellite. We really appreciate their efforts in the identification of the light. We are sorry about our confusion related to this event and its potential impact on the ICESat-2 team."

The video of the green lasers over Hawai'i and the likelihood that a Chinese satellite—even one for scientific research—was the source have become a sensation on social media. Tensions are high after the U.S. shot down an alleged Chinese spy balloon, which China said was meant for civilian research. 

Daqi-1 was launched last year and serves a similar purpose to ICESat-2, being designed to monitor atmospheric pollution using lasers. 

"Daqi-1 can monitor fine particle pollution like PM2.5, pollutant gasses including nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and ozone, as well as carbon dioxide concentration," a 2021 press release from the state-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation stated. According to the agency, China plans to develop more Daqi satellites for environmental observation.