Space Junk From Chinese Spacecraft Creates Spectacular Fireball Show over California

Phelan, California – A remarkable event unfolded early Tuesday morning in Southern California, as a large piece of Chinese space debris made a fiery descent to Earth. Eyewitnesses from Sacramento to San Diego were treated to a dazzling fireball display, with 81 individuals reporting sightings of the event to the American Meteor Society (AMS) by Tuesday afternoon.

The space junk in question was identified as the orbital module of China’s Shenzhou 15 spacecraft, as confirmed by astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell. Launched in November 2022 to ferry three astronauts to the Tiangong space station, the module, weighing about 3,300 pounds, does not have a design to safely return to Earth like the Shenzhou reentry module.

Observers who witnessed the spectacular fireball streaking across the sky around 1:40 a.m. local time may have initially speculated it to be a piece of SpaceX hardware, considering a Falcon 9 rocket’s recent launch of Starlink internet satellites from Vandenberg Space Force Base. However, it was clarified that the burning debris was not from the Falcon 9’s reusable first stage but likely from its disposable upper stage.

Notably, the Shenzhou 15 orbital module is not the first significant piece of Chinese space debris to reenter Earth in such dramatic fashion. The nation’s Long March 5B rocket core stage, weighing 23 tons, routinely plunges back into the atmosphere in an uncontrolled manner, drawing concerns from space agencies regarding irresponsible space practices.

Criticism from various members of the space community, including NASA and the European Space Agency heads, has been aimed at China for these uncontrolled debris crashes, highlighting the potential dangers and risks associated with such events. The spectacle of space debris reentry continues to captivate observers worldwide, underscoring the importance of responsible space exploration practices.