Debris from a Chinese rocket has hurtled towards Earth's atmosphere and burned up, according to Chinese state media, with unconfirmed footage shared all over social this afternoon of what many thought could be the remnants falling from space.
According to People's Daily China, a core segment of China's Long March 5B rocket landed at 72.47 degrees east and latitude 2.65 degrees north. Most of the debris reportedly broke up over the Indian Ocean, near the Maldives.
The US Space Command said in a statement the rocket re-entered the Earth's atmosphere over the Arabian Peninsula at approximately 10:15pm EDT (2:15pm NZ time).
Harvard astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell, who tracked the tumbling rocket part, said on Twitter, "An ocean reentry was always statistically the most likely. It appears China won its gamble… But it was still reckless."
NASA Administrator Senator Bill Nelson issued a statement saying: "It is clear that China is failing to meet responsible standards regarding their space debris."
Usually, discarded rocket stages re-enter the atmosphere soon after lift-off, normally over water, and don't go into orbit.
During the descent people in the Middle East and Spain were certain they'd seen the re-entry, taking videos of small specks of light flying through the sky sharing them on social media.
There was great uncertainty surrounding the point of re-entry, with experts unsure where the rocket would land for much of the day.
Earlier today, predictions for where it was expected to drop shifted from near New Zealand's North Island to other parts of the globe.
China's first space station, Tiangong-1, crashed into the Pacific Ocean in 2016 after Beijing confirmed it had lost control.
In 2019, the space agency controlled the demolition of its second station, Tiangong-2, in the atmosphere.
In March, debris from a Falcon 9 rocket launched by US aeronautics company SpaceX fell to Earth in Washington and on the Oregon coast.
China was heavily criticized after sending a missile to destroyed a defunct weather satellite in January 2007, creating a large field of hazardous debris imperiling satellites and other spacecraft.
What is the Long March 5B rocket?
China's Long March 5B rocket was used to launch the main module of its first permanent space station to host astronauts long term, the latest success for a programme that has realised a number of its growing ambitions in recent years.
The launch begins the first of 11 missions necessary to complete, supply and crew the station by the end of next year.
China's space programme has also recently brought back the first new lunar samples in more than 40 years and expects to land a probe and rover on the surface of Mars later next month.
The space programme is a source of huge national pride, and Premier Li Keqiang and other top civilian and military leaders watched the launch live from the control centre in Beijing. A message of congratulations from state leader and head of the ruling Communist Party Xi Jinping was also read to staff at the Wenchang Launch Centre.
The launch furthers the "three-step" strategy of building up China's manned space programme and marks "an important leading project for constructing a powerful country in science and technology and aerospace," Xi's message said.
When completed by late 2022, the T-shaped Chinese Space Station is expected to weigh about 66 tonnes, considerably smaller than the International Space Station, which launched its first module in 1998 and will weigh about 450 tons when completed.
- additional reporting: AP