Folks living across large swaths of California, Nevada and Utah saw something they won’t soon forget. According to the U.S. Strategic Command (via the LA Times), a Chinese rocket re-entered Earth’s atmosphere near California around 9:36 pm local time.

The videos of the rocket breaking up as it slams into Earth’s atmosphere are stunning.

The speed of the streaking debris is a tell-tale giveaway that it was a man-made object. Meteors, like the ones in the ongoing Delta Aquarid meteor shower, hit our atmosphere at speeds ranging from 25,000 miles per hour to a blistering 160,000 miles per hour!

Blink and you’ll miss them.

That Chinese rocket? It was believed to be traveling at about 18,000 miles per hour.

60 people jumped on the American Meteor Society website to report sightings of the Chinese rocket. That might not seem like many reports, but most fireball sightings tend to average only a handful of reports. You can see how widespread the sightings were.

rocket sightings

From launch to a dramatic re-entry

Last night’s rocket is believed to be a Chinese CZ-7 rocket. Specifically, from the Long March 7 Rocket China launched on June 25. The rocket lifted a scaled-down version of China’s next generation crew vehicle. That capsule was successfully retrieved in Inner Mongolia after a brief orbital flight.

From a picturesque launch.

To a dramatic re-entry.

Events like this don’t happen all that often. At least, never this visible. The folks in California, Nevada and Utah were at the perfect spot at the perfect time. Most of the time, debris re-enters Earth’s atmosphere over the water. Or the weather doesn’t cooperate. Or the debris re-enters during the daytime.

As for the rocket? Officials say it didn’t pose a threat. More than likely, the rocket completely burned up in the atmosphere. But officials couldn’t rule out the possibility of small pieces reaching the ground.

The Delta Aquarid meteor shower

Ok, so it’s not a Chinese rocket barreling through the atmosphere – but it’ll still be fun to watch. The Delta Aquarid meteor shower peaks on July 30. You can expect to see about 20 per hour in perfect conditions.

Realistically? Give yourself 30 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the darkness and you should see a half dozen or so depending on how late you stay out.

If you miss out on the Delta Aquarid shower, don’t sweat it. The Perseids are right around the corner. On August 11-12, you could see up to 100 meteors per hour.

Don’t miss out on this meteor shower. Not only is the per hour rate high, but we don’t have to freeze to watch them. The best bet to see Perseids will be in the predawn hours, but you can start looking as early as 10 pm local time.

Top image credit: KTNV

Follow News Ledge

This post may contain affiliate links, which means we receive a commission if you make a purchase using one of the affiliated links.