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Space junk from Chinese rocket breaks up over Queensland creating spectacular light show

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a blurry image of a night sky: The debris was spotted by people from Noosa to Bundaberg. (Supplied: Paul Karlish)

The debris was spotted by people from Noosa to Bundaberg. 

Debris from a Chinese rocket has broken up over Queensland creating a spectacular light show and captivating stargazers as it crashed towards Earth.

Several videos emerged on social media showing the bright sparks, from Noosa to Bundaberg on Thursday night.

"It's breaking apart," Sonia McLeod said, as she captured the event on camera.

"It's silent though.

"Wow. It's burning up as it comes in. What the hell is it?

"That's insane."

University of Southern Queensland astrophysicist Jonti Horner said the debris was space junk from a rocket, known as Chinese Long March 3B, which launched a navigation satellite in 2019.

He said it would have been about 12 meters long by 3 metres wide as it entered orbit and began breaking up.

"So a fairly hefty chunk," he said.

"It has been whizzing around the Earth gradually getting lower and lower, thanks to the atmosphere.

"Finally it came into burner last night, harmlessly."

Professor Horner said the rocket would have broken up in stages while in orbit.

He said the boosters on the bottom of the rocket would have fallen away in the atmosphere and would not have been seen in last night's display.

The remaining parts of the rocket would also have broken up in the atmosphere, but because they burn for longer, they would have become the blazing debris.

Professor Horner said the rocket was predicted to land in the Pacific Ocean.

"They probably knew that they'd land there or they'd aim to drop it over the pacific," Professor Horner said.

"They wouldn't have known when because the Earth's atmosphere isn't fixed, it's like a pair of lungs that breathe in and breathe out, constantly changing.

"That's why we tend to see a lot of them over our eastern seaboard, because the Pacific is the natural dumping ground, because it's big and empty, and there's nobody there so it's a safe place."

Professor Horner said the tracking of space debris was big business due to the amount of junk in space that posed a threat to active satellites.

"People around the world are observing space junk all the time. [They] try and predict if any satellites are at risk," he said.

"Famously the International Space Station has had to pull a few evasive manoeuvres over the years to avoid potential impacts."

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