About that “mysterious” bit of space debris — it’s not so mysterious after all

Despite headlines to the contrary, people who track space debris know exactly what it is.
By | Published: November 11, 2016 | Last updated on May 18, 2023

It’s hard not to love a headline that involves the words “mysterious space object,” especially if it’s one that crashed back to Earth.


The story, as relayed by the BBC: “A large metal object has fallen from the sky into a jade mining area in north Myanmar, state media say.” The article goes on to mention a few telltale clues: Loud sounds occurred just before something fell from aloft; a cylindrical object fell from the sky, trailed by debris with Chinese writing on it (which dialect wasn’t indicated); houses shook.

It has all the clues of a space mystery. That is, unless you study the trajectory of space debris, which Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics does.

“It is the 2nd stage of the CZ-11 (Long March 11) rocket that went up from China on November 9,” he writes. “[It] flew south over Burma on the way up.”

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