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Falling Russian satellite creates mystery lights in Hawaii skies

  • COURTESY W.M. KECK OBSERVATORY
    The W.M. Keck Observatory captured shots of the Cosmos 1215 Russian satellite burning up in the sky on Sunday night.
  • COURTESY W.M. KECK OBSERVATORY
    The W.M. Keck Observatory captured shots of the Cosmos 1215 Russian satellite burning up in the sky on Sunday night.
  • COURTESY GARY COBB
    Gary Cobb snapped this image of a Russian satellite seen breaking up over Waikiki Sunday night.
  • COURTESY GARY COBB
    This image taken in Waikiki shows a Russian satellite breaking up as it enters the atmosphere over Hawaii Sunday night.
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A falling Russian satellite created mysterious lights in the sky seen over Diamond Head in Waikiki and across the state Sunday night.

NASA’s Orbital Debris Program Office at the Johnson Space Center and the Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base believe the  Cosmos 1315 satellite fell out of orbit and broke up over Hawaii at 11:02 p.m. local time. 

"I was walking the beach in front of Duke’s. I looked up and saw this awesome sight," said Gary Cobb, of Arizona, who snapped a smartphone picture of the satellite breaking up over Waikiki.  

Cobb was walking on Waikiki Beach with his wife Maria when they both saw the satellite. 

"It looked like a big shooting star or an airplane, and then it started breaking up and had a long tail behind it," Cobb said. "If you watch an airplane flying over you, I’d say it was going seven to eight times faster." 

Cobb said the lights were visisble for about six or seven seconds. 

"Just wow. It’s pretty amazing," he said. 

Webcameras on Mauna Kea also captured images of the falling satellite, the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii confirmed.

NASA said Russia launched the Cosmos 1315 satellite on Oct. 14, 1981 and it served as an electronic and signals intelligence satelllite before its technology became obsolete and the program was abandoned. The satellite weighed about 2.5 tons. 

NASA estimates there are more than 21,000 pieces of orbital debis, man-made objects in orbit around the Earth which no longer serve a useful purpose. 

During the past 50 years, an average of one cataloged piece of debris fell back to Earth each day, according to NASA’s obrital debris website. But there has been no confirmed cases of injury or property damage from man-made debris falling back to Earth. 

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