The spectacle South Africans saw in night sky probably debris from a rocket – expert

The spectacle South Africans saw in night sky probably debris from a rocket - expert



  • The bright, shining object captured by cameras in the sky on Tuesday night was most likely part of a Chinese rocket re-entering orbit. 
  • This is according to a specialist in astrophysics.
  • A US-based astronomer believes the same thing, saying it was most likely the upper stage of the rocket. 

The “meteor-like” objects flying through the night sky, observed in parts of southern Africa on Tuesday evening, was most likely the debris from a Chinese rocket re-entering orbit.

The University of the Western Cape’s professor of astrophysics, Carolina Ödman-Govender, told News24 the spectacle, which created a buzz on social media, was likely the Yuanzheng-1S rocket, which was due for re-entry around this time.

Ödman-Govender explained that, what South Africans saw, could have been the rocket booster debris breaking up in the sky.

She said these types of rockets have more than one booster and what was observed could have been the first booster or even the upper stage thruster, which provides the in-space propulsion of the payload.

WATCH | Was it a meteor? A shooting star? SA abuzz after ‘bright, shining object’ flies through sky 

“After the first booster detaches, you have second thrusters and sometimes a third to assist the payload,” Ödman-Govender said.

She added it was unlikely there would be a “crash site” as this debris normally burns up in the atmosphere before reaching land.

Astronomer Jonathan McDowell also suspected it was “probably the Yuanzheng-1S upper stage being deorbited”.

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