Fiery ball of Chinese space junk lights up California night sky

A dramatic fireball burning across the night sky in Southern California Tuesday has been confirmed by US Space officials to be the re-entry of a Chinese orbital module launched in 2022.

The Chinese space junk – otherwise known as the Peoples Republic of China SZ-15 Module, SCC# 56873 – appeared above the “eastern Pacific ocean at approximately 1:43 am Pacific time on April 2nd," a spokesperson for the US Space Command confirmed to local media outlet Fox11.

“An amazing fireball has been spotted over California,” posted X user @Truthpolex along with a video of the module, which at first was believed to be a meteor until experts began to weigh in.

Others questioned if the burning hunk was part of the SpaceX partially reusable Falcon 9 heavy rocket, which launched about two dozen Starlink satellites into space earlier in the day from the nearby Vandenberg Space Force Base in Santa Barbara County.

Aerospace, a US-funded space research and technology corporation, predicted the Shenzhou 15’s re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere would occur over the Pacific Ocean on April 2nd at 08:33 UTC ± 4 hours, which is 1:33 am PST, about 10 minutes earlier than the first sightings.

Astronomer Jonathan McDowell also said the observation was “consistent with the reentry of the Shenzhou 15 "Guidao cang" (orbital module)” when questioned by curious space enthusiasts on X.

X user and astrophotographer @ianlauerastro tagged McDowell in his post, “any idea what broke up in the upper atmosphere? My friend (who took this photo) said it was over Azusa, Ca. at about 1:41am 4/2/2024.”

The Shenzhou 15 was a Chinese spaceflight launched in November 2022 to dock at China’s permanently crewed Tiangong space station, launched by Beijing in spring 2021.

Three astronauts were on board the flight and, after a six month mission, safely returned to earth in June last year inside the Shenzhou 15 spacecraft return capsule.

According to, the overflow of space junk in low earth orbit and debris crashes have raised safety concerns among the space community, including NASA and the European Space Agency.

Earlier this week, NASA launched an investigation into what is believed to be a piece of the International Space Station that came crashing through the roof of a Florida home on March 8th, barely missing the young boy living in the house.

NASA said in an email to Cybernews that it had collected the item in cooperation with the homeowner and would analyze the object at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida “as soon as possible” to determine its origin. It said it would share more information once the analysis was complete.

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