A defunct Chinese space lab broke apart as it hurtled through Earth's atmosphere Monday and plunged towards a watery grave in the South Pacific, Chinese officials said.
The Tiangong-1 "mostly" burnt up above the vast ocean's central region at 8:15 am (0015 GMT), China's Manned Space Engineering Office said.
There was no immediate confirmation of the final resting place of any remaining debris, although the South Pacific is largely empty.
Space officials had promised the atmospheric disintegration would offer a "splendid" show akin to a meteor shower.
But the remote location likely deprived stargazers of a spectacle of fireballs falling from the sky.
Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said the module zoomed over Pyongyang and the Japanese city of Kyoto during daylight hours, reducing the odds of seeing it before it hit the Pacific.
"It would have been fun for people to see it, but there will be other reentries," McDowell told AFP. "The good thing is that it doesn't cause any damage when it comes down and that's what we like."
Space officials had warned that knowing the exact location of the re-entry would not be possible until shortly before it happened.
The difficulties seemed to wrong-foot Chinese space scientists -- just moments before announcing the craft would come down over the Pacific, they said it would make its re-entry over Sao Paulo, and head towards the Atlantic Ocean.
The US military's network of radars and sensors also confirmed that the Tiangong-1 had re-entered over the Pacific, but a minute later than the Chinese estimate, according to a statement by the Joint Force Space Component Command (JFSCC).
The JFSCC said it confirmed the re-entry in coordination with Australia, Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and South Korea.
- Wrong guess -
McDowell said China's space agency's initial estimate for re-entry was off because it "guessed wrong" about the time that the space lab would come down from its orbital path.
"That's all that happened," he said, as models used by experts to estimate a re-entry point pick the middle time in a return window.
The European Space Agency had indicated earlier that the Tiangong-1 was likely to break up over water, which covers most of the planet's surface.
It described the probability of someone being hit by a piece of debris from Tiangong-1 as "10 million times smaller than the yearly chance of being hit by lightning".
Tiangong-1 -- or "Heavenly Palace" -- was placed in orbit in September 2011, an important step in China's efforts towards building its own space station.
The module -- which was used to practise complicated manual and automatic docking techniques -- was originally intended to be used for just two years, but ended up serving considerably longer.
During its brief lifespan, it hosted Chinese astronauts on several occasions as they performed experiments and even taught a class that was broadcast into schools across the country.
- Out of control? -
Tiangong-1 had been slated for a controlled re-entry, but ceased functioning in March 2016. Space enthusiasts have been bracing for its return ever since.
The ESA has said that ground controllers were no longer able to command Tiangong-1 to fire its on-board engines, which could have been used to determine where it re-entered Earth's atmosphere.
In contrast, Russia brought down its massive Mir space station through a controlled re-entry over the Pacific Ocean in 2001.
A Chinese spaceflight engineer denied earlier this year that the lab was out of control.
Chinese media have downplayed comments by the ESA and others that the country's engineers have lost control of the lab, with reports saying that the idea it is "out of control" is an invention of foreign media.
Beijing began its manned spaceflight programme in 1990 after buying Russian technology that enabled it to become the third country with the ability to launch humans into space, following the former Soviet Union and the United States.
China sent another space lab, Tiangong-2, into orbit in September 2016 as a stepping stone to its goal of having a crewed space station by 2022.
It also plans to send a manned mission to the moon in the future.
Coming down in flames: Fiery endings for spacecraft
Beijing, April 2, 2018 (AFP) - Shortly after the Tiangong-1 space station re-entered Earth's atmosphere on Monday, most of it was vaporised, Chinese space officials said, with the remnants expected to have plopped harmlessly somewhere into the Pacific Ocean. The defunct space lab joins a long list of craft that have burned up as they have hurtled back to Earth. Here are the some of the more famous ones:
Mir - 2001
Launched in 1986, the Mir station was once a proud symbol of Soviet success in space, despite a series of high-profile accidents and technical problems. But Russian authorities, strapped for cash after the collapse of the Soviet Union, chose to abandon the orbiting outpost in the late 1990s and devote their resources to the International Space Station. The massive 140-tonne station was brought down by the Russian space agency over the Pacific Ocean between New Zealand and Chile, and its burning debris was seen streaking across the sky over Fiji.
Salyut 7 - 1991
Salyut 7, launched in 1982, was the last orbiting laboratory under the Soviet Union's Salyut programme. When the Mir space station was launched in 1986, Soviet space authorities boosted Salyut 7 to a higher orbit and abandoned it there. It was supposed to stay in orbit until 1994, but an unexpected increase in drag by the earth's atmosphere caused it to hurtle down in 1991. The 40-tonne station broke up on re-entry and the parts that survived scattered over Argentina.
Skylab - 1979
Skylab was the first American space station, launched by NASA in 1973, and was crewed until 1974. There were proposals to refurbish it later in the decade, but the lab's orbit began to decay and NASA had to prepare for its re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere with only partial control over where it would come down. The 85-tonne Skylab's eventual descent over Australia was a worldwide media event, with some newspapers offering thousands of dollars to people who recovered parts of the station that landed.
Columbia - 2003
The disintegration of large spacecraft has not always been without tragedy. In 2003, NASA's space shuttle Columbia broke apart during its re-entry into the atmosphere at the end of the STS-107 mission, killing all seven astronauts on board. Columbia's left wing was damaged by a piece of debris during launch, leaving the shuttle unable to withstand the extreme temperatures generated by re-entry, and causing it to break apart. The flaming debris from the 80-tonne craft was caught streaking across the sky over the southern US by local TV stations, with tens of thousands of the doomed shuttle's parts scattered over Texas and Louisiana.