Watch: 50-metre Chinese rocket re-enters Earth and disintegrates, video viral

Second instance after the debris of another Chinese rocket crashed into the Indian Ocean last year.

Highlights
  • 50-metre-tall Long March 5B Chinese rocket crashed back into the Earth
  • It reportedly hit the Indian Ocean at approximately 12:45 pm EDT Saturday (16:45 GMT)
  • No human casualties have been reported. 

Space officials from the US and China have confirmed a report by Reuters of a 50-metre, 23-ton Long March 5B Chinese rocket making its way uncontrollably back into the Earth’s atmosphere and hitting the Indian Ocean. The US Space Command confirmed the details of the debris re-entering the Indian Ocean at approximately 12:45 pm EDT Saturday (16:45 GMT), which were visible over Malaysia. It further tweeted, “We refer you to the PRC for further details on the reentry’s technical aspects such as potential debris dispersal+ impact location.”

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The rocket was launched on July 24  to send a major laboratory module to the Tiangong space station. Given the unpredictable nature of Earth’s atmosphere, scientists feared that the debris might hit human-habitat parts of the US, Africa, Australia, Brazil, and Southeast Asia. However, no injuries have been reported so far.

As per Reuters, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said, “All spacefaring nations should follow established best practices and do their part to share this type of information in advance to allow reliable predictions of potential debris impact risk.” As per the New York Times,` Chinese Manned Space has been claiming that most of the debris had burned up on re-entry over the Sulu Sea, between the island of Borneo and the Philippines.

A similar event occurred in 2020 when debris from another Chinese rocket fell into the Indian Ocean. Then in April 2022, a 2-3 metre ring and a cylindrical object crashed into a village in Maharashtra. Astronomer Jonathan McDowell, a renowned astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, suspected them to be the remnants of the Chinese rocket as the third stage of another Chinese rocket, Chang Zheng 3B serial number Y77 which was launched in Feb 2021, was expected to re-enter in the next hour or so. In fact, in November 2019, a part of the Long March 3B rocket even demolished a house in China.

Why do rockets crash back into Earth’s atmosphere?

When a rocket is launched, few parts of it are abandoned in orbit or are dropped back to the Earth. A rocket body can return to earth in a controlled manner, but if they are left in orbit then perhaps it can re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere in an uncontrolled way. Generally, this body burns up completely during its re-entry but sometimes it doesn’t and that poses threat.