“No other country puts this 20 tons of material into re-entry orbit in an uncontrolled way,” Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, told CNN’s Jim Acosta on Saturday afternoon.
“All spacefaring nations should follow established best practices and share this type of information in advance to allow reliable predictions of potential debris impact risk, especially for heavy-lift vehicles such as the Long March 5B, which carry a significant risk of loss of life and property.” Nelson said.
“Doing so is critical to the responsible use of space and ensuring the safety of people on Earth,” he added.
The remains of the rocket re-entered the atmosphere at 12:55 a.m. Beijing time on Sunday, or 12:55 p.m. Saturday, China’s human space agency said in a statement.
The company collected most of the burnt remains as it re-entered the Sulu Sea between the island of Borneo and the Philippines.
“What we really want to know is if any of the pieces actually ended up sitting on the ground,” McDowell told CNN. “It may take some time for the reports to filter back in.”
Videos and photos posted online show several bright objects dotting the night sky above the city of Kuching in Sarawak, Malaysia. Local resident Vanessa Zhulan shared the video with CNN, which she took around 12:50 a.m. local time, the same as Beijing time.
On Sunday, Malaysia’s National Space Agency issued a statement confirming the detection of “burnt debris” from the Chinese Long March 5B rocket. “The rocket debris caught fire upon entering Earth’s airspace and the movement of burning debris was detected in several areas, including crossing Malaysian airspace and crossing the airspace around the state of Sarawak,” the agency said.
CNN’s Yong Xiong and Heather Chen contributed to this report.