HONOLULU (KHON) – Astronomers say a Chinese satellite has been caught on video beaming down green lasers over the Hawaiian Islands.
A National Astronomical Observatory of Japan livestream camera atop the Subaru Telescope on Mauna Kea recorded the footage in late January.
The lasers flashed for just a couple of seconds and were initially thought to be from a NASA altimeter satellite. The NAOJ put out a correction note on Feb. 6 that said NASA scientists “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.”
“It’s a Chinese satellite that is measuring pollutants, among other things,” said University of Hawaii Institute of Astronomy’s Roy Gal. “It has many different instruments on it. … Some kind of topographical mapping or they’re also used for measuring stuff in Earth’s atmosphere, and I think that’s what it is, environmental measurement satellite.”
A former chief of staff of Marine Forces Pacific had a different perspective. “I’m not sure, and this is my opinion, why the Chinese — who are probably some of the most prolific polluters on the planet — would be collecting data on pollutants on this side of the Pacific,” said Ray L’Heureux.
Both experts said the object is not explicitly a spy satellite. It is cataloged and known by governments around the world.
“The U.S. has satellites to do the same thing, so, in this case, despite all the flurry, well deserved flurry, about Chinese spy satellites and other devices, this one is just orbiting earth and has a known orbit,” Gal said.
The footage from Mauna Kea was taken Jan. 28, prior to the recent incident where a Chinese balloon traversed over the mainland U.S. before being shot down off the coast of South Carolina.
“It seems to me that those tensions are there. People are a little antsy, and I think that we just need to be a little bit more aware, vigilant,” L’Heureux said.
Gal said the Chinese satellite does not pose a risk to locals or Hawaii.
“No, it’s not a risk to Hawaii or anyplace else, too. We have aircraft making these measurements all the time. If you’ve seen topographical maps with high precision, those are made using sometimes this kind of thing,” Gal said.
Nexstar’s KHON reached out to the United States Space Force to see how often Chinese satellites scan Hawaii airspace and if there’s been an explanation from China. Officials did not respond by publication time.