fireball japan May 10, 2023
© Nippon TV News 24 JapanA fireball-like object is seen crossing the sky over Okinawa Prefecture on the evening of May 10, leaving a long trail of bright light in the night sky.
Residents captured footage of bright lights streaking across the night sky in southern Japan

Strange fireball-like objects were seen flying over Japan's Okinawa Prefecture on Wednesday night, according to local news reports, with several eyewitnesses taking to social media to share clips of the spectacle.

A video captured by an NHK reporter around 8:30pm local time shows the objects blazing through the sky near Naha City in Japan's southernmost region. The journalist said they were "surprised" by the sighting, noting "At first, I thought they were fireworks, but I didn't hear any sound and they moved in a straight line."

The Ishigakijima Astronomical Observatory, located in Ishigaki City on the Okinawa island chain, later confirmed that it spotted a "streak of light" in the sky north of the facility at 8:33pm on Wednesday.

A number of locals also filmed the fireballs and uploaded the footage online, with one video created by the Ryukyu Shimpo newspaper compiling a series of clips shared by residents. On social media, some observers speculated the lights were pieces of a meteor or shooting stars.

While the objects have yet to be identified definitively, the Ishigakijima observatory offered a plausible explanation, noting that debris from a Chinese rocket launched last November was expected to re-enter Earth's atmosphere on the night of May 10. The observatory predicted the space junk would "pass directly over the main island of Okinawa," or just north of it, NHK added.

"Fireballs and meteorites can be expected to hit the Earth vertically or obliquely, but debris from satellites and rockets are orbiting the Earth," the observatory said. "So it's possible that [the debris] will look like this because it's going to slowly plunge in, near parallel to the Earth, and burn up over a long period of time."

The Eta Aquarid meteor shower is also in progress - active this year between April 15 and May 27 - although the event's peak already passed last week, when about five meteors were expected to be visible in the skies over Tokyo. It is unclear whether the shower would still be perceptible from Okinawa at its current stage.