After days of tantalizing speculation about where it would fall, China's biggest rocket is back down to Earth.
China’s space agency said a core segment of the rocket reentered Earth’s atmosphere above the Maldives in the Indian Ocean and that most of it burned up early Sunday.
The official Xinhua News Agency said reentry occurred Sunday at 10:24 a.m. Beijing time. “The vast majority of items were burned beyond recognition during the reentry process,” the report said.
The U.S. Space Command said it could confirm that the rocket reentered over the Arabian Peninsula at about 10:15 p.m. EDT Saturday, but that "it is unknown if the debris impacted land or water."
People in Jordan, Oman and Saudi Arabia reported sightings of the Chinese rocket debris on social media.
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 Sen. Bill Nelson issued a statement saying: “It is clear that China is failing to meet responsible standards regarding their space debris.”
Experts said the rocket's size and speed made it nearly impossible to pinpoint what might happen as it fell to Earth. The section was roughly 100 feet long and and is among the biggest pieces of space debris to fall to Earth.
The debris came from the largest section of the rocket, which launched the main module of China’s first permanent space station into orbit. Usually, discarded rocket stages reenter the atmosphere soon after liftoff, normally over water, and don’t go into orbit.
On Saturday, models and visualizations from various space research organizations showed the debris could land along numerous flight paths crossing the globe.
Australia, Africa, parts of Europe, South America, Central America and the U.S. were all under possible reentry zones, according to Aerospace Corporation, a California-based nonprofit group that operates a space research and development center.
China on Friday tried to ease global fears by saying the rocket was expected to mostly burn up on reentry and posed little threat to people and property on the ground.
Previously: Chinese rocket hurtling back to Earth
The Long March 5B rocket carrying China's Tianhe space station core module lifted off from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in southern China's Hainan province April 29. Known as the Heavenly Harmony, the space station will be China's first to host astronauts long-term.
China plans 10 more launches to carry additional parts of the space station into orbit.
It's not the first rocket to fall to the earth in recent memory. Last year, part of a Chinese rocket, one of the largest pieces of uncontrolled space debris ever, passed directly over Los Angeles and New York City's Central Parkbefore landing in the Atlantic Ocean, CNN reported.
The 18-ton rocket that fell last May was the heaviest debris to fall uncontrolled since the Soviet space station Salyut 7 in 1991.
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.
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Debris from Chinese Long March 5B rocket reenters over Indian Ocean