BERLIN — Heavily populated Asian cities avoided a dangerous collision with space junk last weekend as a defunct German satellite crashed into the sea somewhere between India and Myanmar.
The ROSAT satellite re-entered the atmosphere at 0150 GMT Sunday (9:50 p.m. Saturday EDT) above South Asia's Bay of Bengal, but it remains unclear how much, if any, of its debris actually reached the sea's surface, the German Aerospace Center said Tuesday.
Most of the 21-year-old satellite was expected to burn up as it hit the atmosphere, but up to 30 fragments weighing a total of 1.87 tons (1.7 metric tons) may have splashed into the sea.
Scientists could no longer communicate with the defunct satellite, let alone control it.
Two Chinese cities with millions of residents each, Chongqing and Chengdu, were only minutes further northeast along the satellite's projected path, according to Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The 2.69-ton (2.4 metric ton) scientific ROSAT satellite was launched in Cape Canaveral, Florida, in 1990 and retired in 1999 after being used for research on black holes and neutron stars.
A dead NASA satellite fell into the southern Pacific Ocean last month, causing no damage but spreading debris over a 500-mile (800-kilometer) area.
Since 1991, space agencies have adopted new procedures to lessen space junk. NASA says it has no more large satellites that will fall back to Earth uncontrolled in the next 25 years.
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