Chinese satellite fires green laser beams over Hawaii as tensions escalate over spy balloon

Incident comes amid an escalation of tensions between China and the US – after a Chinese spy balloon was spotted over Montana earlier this month and three other ‘flying objects’ were shot down this weekend

Rachel Sharp
Monday 13 February 2023 15:36 GMT
US shoots down four ‘flying objects’: What we know so far

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Astronomers have revealed that a Chinese satellite fired green laser beams over the state of Hawaii – at a time when tensions are boiling over between Beijing and Washington after several foreign objects including a Chinese spy balloon were shot down over the US in recent days.

Scientists at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) captured the mystery beams of light on video through its Subaru-Asahi Star Camera on Mauna Kea back on 28 January.

Footage of the incident shows green laser light beaming over the cloudy sky over Maunakea in Hawaii.

At the time, the space agency said that the lights were thought to be from a NASA remote-sensing altimeter satellite.

But, on 6 February, the NAOJ made a correction note, instead revealing that the “most likely candidate” for the laser beams was China.

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,” the agency stated.

The agency apologised for the confusion, saying: “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.”

Two experts told KHON that the satellite is not thought to be being used to spy on the US as a craft that is known by governments across the globe.

But the purpose of the green laser beams remains something of a mystery.

University of Hawaii Institute of Astronomy’s Roy Gal told the outlet that it is likely measuring environmental pollutants.

“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,” he said.

Former chief of staff of Marine Forces Pacific Ray L’Heureux cast doubts on this theory questioning “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”.

The green laser lights in the cloudy sky over Maunakea, Hawaii, on 28 January
The green laser lights in the cloudy sky over Maunakea, Hawaii, on 28 January (NAOJ)

Whatever its purpose, the incident comes amid an escalation of tensions between China and the US – ever since a Chinese spy balloon was spotted over Montana earlier this month.

That balloon was shot down off the coast of South Carolina on 4 February and is currently being retrieved from the Atlantic Ocean in order to be analysed by the Pentagon.

China continues to deny that the balloon was being used for spying, claiming it was a weather balloon that blew off course.

This weekend, three other mysterious flying objects were spotted in US and Canadian airspace and were shot down over Alaska, Canada and Lake Huron in Michigan.

The three crafts downed this weekend have not yet been tied to China.

On Sunday, North American Aerospace Defense Command (Norad) and Northern Command General Glen VanHerck said defence officials are working to identify the latest “objects” and are not ruling anything – including UFOs – out at this time.

“We’re calling them objects, not balloons, for a reason,” he said.

“I’ll let the intel community and the counterintelligence community figure that out.”

Now, China is accusing the US of “illegally” flying spy balloons into its own airspace – an allegation denied by Washington.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters Monday that the US has sent high-altitude balloons into its airspace more than 10 times since January 2022.

Mr Wenbin gave no evidence for this bold claim.

Chinese officials earlier said they had spotted and planned to shoot down an unidentified object flying close to a major naval base in Qingdao.

White House national security spokesman John Kirby denied the accusation in an interview with MSNBC on Monday morning.

“Not true. Not doing it. Just absolutely not true,” he said.

“We are not flying balloons over China.”

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