Clip shows rocket in Kazakhstan, not ‘strange light’ before Turkey quake

February 10, 2023 GMT

CLAIM: A video shows a strange light that appeared in the night sky in Turkey before Monday’s magnitude 7.8 earthquake.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The video was captured in Kazakhstan in September 2022 and shows a Soyuz spacecraft passing through the night sky.

THE FACTS: Among numerous misrepresented videos that circulated online after this week’s earthquake in Turkey and Syria was a clip that showed a large, glowing orb slowly traveling through a dark sky.

Twitter, TikTok and YouTube users shared the video with claims that it was shot in Turkey shortly before Monday’s devastating earthquake struck.

“Strange light in sky before earthquake….” read a popular tweet.

However, an internet search first conducted last month by the French broadcaster Radio-télévision belge de la Communauté française, or RTFB, reveals that the video was shot in Kazakhstan in September, not Turkey in February.

The video appeared in a post on the messenger app Telegram on Sept. 25 with the caption, “Balkhash. Saturday.” Balkhash is a city in Kazakhstan.

A search of Google Street View images captured in Balkhash confirmed the video was filmed in the city. An image from February 2021 shows the same bus station, metal fence and building that appear in the video.

Chris Combs, Dee Howard endowed assistant professor of engineering at the University of Texas at San Antonio, confirmed that the video shows a rocket launch, displaying a visual effect sometimes referred to as a “space jellyfish.”

He explained that pressure differences during rocket launches cause a spacecraft’s exhaust to expand outward into a large plume. When a rocket takes off at just the right time around dawn or dusk, the sun’s rays can illuminate the plume in the sky.

“They’re in daytime because they’re so high up,” Combs said. “But viewers on the ground, it’s still dark. You see this glow and that’s really just sunlight reflected off that exhaust plume.”

Map data shows that Balkhash is located near the Baikonur Cosmodrome, a spaceport in southern Kazakhstan that is operated by Russia. A Twitter user shared the video in October 2022 mentioning the spaceport.

While there was no reported rocket launch from that port on Sept. 25 -- the day the video was shared on Telegram -- there was one on Sept. 21, according to Associated Press reporting. A Soyuz capsule rocketed into orbit from Kazakhstan carrying one American and two Russian passengers on a trip to the International Space Station.

A livestream video of the rocket launch shows it lifted off near dusk in Kazakhstan, making it plausible that it would create a “space jellyfish” illusion for the country’s spectators.


This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.