During the wee hours of Sunday (31 July), several bright objects, suspected of debris from a Chinese rocket that had fallen back to earth, were streaked across the Sarawak sky.
According to the US space agency NASA, the 22.5-tonne core stage of the Long March 5B rocket re-entered Earth’s atmosphere over the Indian Ocean at approximately 12.45 am on Sunday.
“#USSPACECOM can confirm the People’s Republic of China (PRC) Long March 5B (CZ-5B) re-entered over the Indian Ocean at approx 10:45 am MDT on 7/30. We refer you to the #PRC for further details on the reentry’s technical aspects such as potential debris dispersal+ impact location,” the US Space Command tweeted.
#USSPACECOM can confirm the People’s Republic of China (PRC) Long March 5B (CZ-5B) re-entered over the Indian Ocean at approx 10:45 am MDT on 7/30. We refer you to the #PRC for further details on the reentry’s technical aspects such as potential debris dispersal+ impact location.— U.S. Space Command (@US_SpaceCom) July 30, 2022
Meanwhile, the spectacle even was spotted by many Sarawakians, with many uploaded videos of the scene to social media. However, not many realised that they are witnessing and claimed that it was a “meteorite”.
“Kuching Sarawak.. meteor or apa?” tweeted a netizen, who later share that it was the Long March rocket instead. He added that there was an “explosion” was heard over Kuching.
“There is a long streak of clouds… the people of Kuching have reported hearing the explosion an hour ago,” he tweeted.
Kuching Sarawak.. meteor or apa pic.twitter.com/HJzN1zbOJ6— hanifDaslepzz ➐ (@hanifDaslepzz) July 30, 2022
Meanwhile, astrophysicist and satellite tracker Jonathan McDowell from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics explained that the video from Kuching implies it was high in the atmosphere at that time and any debris would land hundreds of km further along the track, near Sibu, Bintulu or even Brunei.
“It’s ‘unlikely but not impossible’ that one or more chunks hit a population centre,” he said in a series of tweets.
Previously, the Malaysian Space Agency (MYSA) said that the debris from the rocket was unlikely to land in Malaysia.
“Due to the strong atmospheric drag to the orbit, the debris is expected to enter the earth’s atmosphere a few days after the launch.”
“Basically, the location of the re-entry of the debris can’t be predicted accurately until a few hours before re-entry and in many cases, there will be a vast difference in the forecast due to the change in the physical characteristics of the object during re-entry, including location and speed,” it said in a statement.
MYSA added that most of the debris would be burnt during re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere, with only smaller fragments landing on earth.
“As such, the public need not be concerned about the dangers as 70% of it was water and Malaysia was a small entity compared to earth’s mass area.”
“Furthermore, the exact location of the re-entry currently can’t be ascertained and Mysa will update on any development from time to time, ” it added.