Turns out, the spectacle was created by flaming "orbital debris" reentering the Earth's atmosphere above Northern California, after years spent orbiting the Earth since being discarded from the International Space Station in 2020, according to Smithsonian astronomer Jonathan McDowell. But, he said, the U.S. Space Force does track thousands of such items, so when the dazzling display was spotted Friday in skies from Sacramento to Fresno, he was able to match the event with the space debris. This specific piece of equipment was a 683-pound communications device launched by Japan in 2009 and attached to the outside of the International Space Station, McDowell said. In 2020, ISS officials jettisoned the device from the space station, beginning its years-long journey back to Earth, he said. “Every day the Space Force is tracking over 20,000 pieces in orbit around the Earth," McDowell said, though he noted about 7,000 of those are working satellites.