Photos Show Suspected Chinese Rocket Debris That Landed in Indian Village

Debris from what may have been a Chinese rocket abandoned in Earth orbit appears to have landed in a remote region of India, experts think.

A large metal ring weighing more than 40kg (88lb) was reported to have thumped into the ground in the village of Ladbori on April 2, according to the Times of India, landing just feet from a house and startling locals who were preparing food at the time.

Another object, a spherical metal ball weighing around 10kg (22lb), is said to have hit a dried pond near to Pavanpar village. Photos can be seen below, courtesy of journalist Praveen Mudholkar and environment official Suresh Chopane.

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Possible rocket debris in India

A large ring was amongst the alleged rocket debris.
Launch Slideshow 5 PHOTOS

The fallen objects were found on the same day as several eyewitnesses in India's Maharashtra region reported seeing blazing lights streaking across the sky on April 2, and multiple videos were uploaded to Twitter.

All of the videos show several dots of light moving slowly across the night sky, each dot leaving behind a fiery tail. One clip can be seen here.

Jonathan McDowell is an astronomer at the Harvard & Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Responding to a query about what the fiery objects may have been, he tweeted: "I believe this is the reentry of a Chinese rocket stage, the third stage of the Chang Zheng 3B serial number Y77 which was launched in Feb 2021—it was expected to reenter in the next hour or so and the track is a good match."

In addition, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) issued a statement that appeared to tally with McDowell's conclusion. The ISRO told the Times of India that the same rocket was expected to re-enter Earth's atmosphere that same day.

"With the latest orbital information from USSPACECOM, the closest match to the observed re-entry over India has to be from [the] Chinese CZ-3B, which launched on February 4 last year," a senior ISRO official told the paper.

The Chang Zheng 3B rocket is also known as the Long March 3B. It is the rocket's third stage segment that is believed to have come down over India.

In a tweet, McDowell said that this stage of the rocket was left in an elliptical orbit around the Earth after its launch in February last year. Over time, small amounts of atmospheric drag caused the rocket's altitude to decrease until it re-entered Earth's atmosphere.

When rockets are left in orbits like this, it is impossible to predict exactly when—and therefore where—they will re-enter, McDowell added. "We knew it would come down sometime yesterday but not precisely when, so it could have been anywhere along the orbit. It turned out to be India."

Possible rocket debris in India
Parts of the possible Chinese rocket debris landed in rural India. Objects in space may not always burn up completely in the atmosphere if they de-orbit. Suresh Chopane/Praveen Mudholkar