U.S. Space Command confirms cause of fireball seen across Southern California sky – FOX 11 Los Angeles

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Officials with the U.S. Space Command confirmed on Wednesday that what was initially reported as a meteor sighting, was actually a Chinese module used to launch three astronauts in 2022.

Videos of the fiery display flooded social media during the early morning hours of Tuesday. Some thought the flaming debris was a bright meteor, while others thought it was debris from Monday’s SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch.

RELATED: No, they aren’t aliens. SpaceX launch leaves streak over California skies

What shot through the sky was actually the Shenzhou 15 orbital module re-entering Earth’s atmosphere. The module’s heat shield burned away, giving it the appearance of a meteor shower.

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“U.S. Space Command can confirm the People’s Republic of China SZ-15 Module, SCC# 56873, re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere over the eastern Pacific ocean at approximately 1:43 am Pacific time on April 2,” a U.S. Space Command spokesperson confirmed to FOX 11.

According to the Aerospace Corp., the Shenzhou module was used to launch three Chinese astronauts into space in November 2022. The space junk was expected to break up over the Pacific Ocean.

It’s common for rocket boosters and spacecraft to come crashing back to Earth.

NASA, the European Space Agency and other international aerospace community members have guidelines to reduce dead satellites and rocket parts in low-Earth orbit by requiring post-mission disposal of natural decay or a controlled entry. 

Low-Earth orbit is becoming increasingly crowded with active and defunct satellites, which can create more space junk if they crash into each other in orbit. NASA’s Orbital Debris Program estimates there are more than 25,000 objects larger than 10 cm (3.9 inches), with about 500,000 pieces smaller than that orbiting Earth.

When old satellites and rockets get pulled back to Earth, most hardware breaks into tiny pieces as it hits Earth’s atmosphere.

FOX Weather contributed to this report.

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