A flash in the sky over the Ukrainian capital sparked confusion and alarm as city officials said it was caused by a NASA satellite re-entering the atmosphere, while the US space agency denied involvement.
Sergiy Popko, the head of Kiev’s military administration, wrote on a telegram that a “bright flash” was seen in Kiev around 10 p.m. local time.
Popko said that the air raid warning had been activated, but “the air defense was not in operation”.
Shortly afterwards, the Ukrainian Air Force stated that the flash was “related to the fall of a satellite/meteoroid”.
But a NASA spokesman denied this assessment, telling the AFP news agency that the satellite in question was “still in orbit”.
The US space agency announced earlier this week that a retired 300-kilogram satellite will re-enter the atmosphere sometime on Wednesday.
“However, that re-entry has not happened yet … No other NASA satellite re-entered the atmosphere earlier today,” a NASA spokesman told AFP.
NASA said the Raven RAMT High Energy Solar Spectroscopic Imager (RHESSI) spacecraft, used to observe solar flares, was launched into low Earth orbit in 2002 and decommissioned in 2018.
Ukrainian social media was flooded with speculation and memes after multiple channels posted videos showing powerful flashlights in the sky over Kiev.
“While social media is abuzz with flying saucer memes… please don’t use the official emblem of the Air Force to create memes!” said in a tweet by the Air Force.
NASA said in a statement on Monday that it expected most of the RHESSI spacecraft to burn up as it re-entered the atmosphere.
“But some components are expected to survive,” NASA said, adding that the risk of damage to anyone on Earth was low – about one in 2,467.