Chinese space junk creates spectacular fireball over California during re-entry

A big, 1500 kg-weight Chinese space junk has created a slow-moving fireball over California during its atmospheric re-entry on Tuesday, April 2, 2024, at 1:43 a.m. local time (08:43 UTC).

This spectacular light show was seen all over central and southern California, from the North Bay to San Diego. As of Tuesday evening, 85 people had reported the event to the American Meteor Society (AMS).

The Orbital Module of China's Shenzhou 15 spacecraft creates a fireball over California during atmospheric re-entry on April 2, 2024
The Orbital Module of China’s Shenzhou 15 spacecraft creates a fireball over California during atmospheric re-entry on April 2, 2024. (Image credit: Casey B./AMS)

The space junk was part of a Chinese satellite. More specifically, it was the discarded Orbital Module from China’s Shenzhou 15 spacecraft.

Shenzhou 15 spacecraft was launched with three taikonauts (Chinese astronauts) to China’s Tiangong space station on November 29, 2022.

After completing the Shenzhou-15 mission (SZ-15) on the Tiangong space station, when Shenzhou 15 spacecraft returned to Earth with three taikonauts on June 3, 2023, its Orbital Module was released from the spacecraft before the atmospheric re-entry as it was not designed to land safely on Earth. Only the Reentry Module of Shenzhou 15 spacecraft carried these taikonauts back to Earth.

Christopher H. captured the fireball on April 2 from Ventura, US
Christopher H. captured the fireball of the Chinese space junk on April 2 from Ventura, US. (Image credit: Christopher H./AMS)

Now the Orbital Module which was released on June 3, 2023 from space, has reached our earth atmosphere on April 2, 2024 and during its atmospheric fiery re-entry, the Orbital Module of weight 1500 kg broke into many pieces and created fireball over California.

Some people thought the space debris is related to SpaceX as the company launched a bunch of Starlink satellites from California on the evening of April 1, 2024. However that was not true.

It was an uncontrolled atmospheric re-entry. Please note that if a spacecraft (especially if it is large) reaches the Earth’s surface in an uncontrolled manner, it can cause potential damage to the human race.

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Ashim

Ashim Chandra Sarkar founded Space & Telescope in 2022. He holds a M.Sc. in physics and has five years of research experience in optical astronomy. His passion for astronomy inspired him to open this website. He is responsible for the editorial vision of spaceandtelescope.com.

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