On Thursday evening, a "dazzling, splintering phantom" made its way across the sky in the Pacific Northwest, reaching from Portland to Seattle, reports the Washington Post. The sighting shocked, pleased, and confused viewers on the ground, who both marveled at the beauty of it but also expressed concern about what the object—which at first looked similar to a meteor or comet streaking through the night—actually was. "I don't know what that was, but it was spectacular," one observer on an Oregon beach tweeted, telling the Post the low-flying object was moving much slower than a meteor would. "Is that space debris?" another spectator, this time in Seattle, asked. The paper notes that speculation on social media soon took off, with theories ranging from the aforementioned meteor/comet or space junk to a plane accident or missile test that went awry.
An assistant astronomy professor at the University of Washington, however, has another theory that so far appears to be the most credible one. "We got a really good show tonight, I think, thanks to SpaceX," Dr. James Davenport told KING 5. Davenport explained that he believed the object to be a second-stage Falcon 9 rocket that launched about three weeks ago, and which was seen Thursday about 30 miles up in the air. The National Weather Service agrees, explaining that the rocket was originally meant to de-orbit and burn out somewhere near Australia; it apparently missed its mark somewhat. No debris is expected to fall to the ground. Whether the sky show was indeed the result of a failed SpaceX de-orbiting (the company hasn't confirmed the reports) or ... something else, those who got to see it live are glad they did. "I have never in my life seen something so incredible," a KATU reporter tweeted, sharing a video. (Read more SpaceX stories.)