A defunct Chinese space station plummeted to Earth on Sunday night, and officials said debris from the 18,000-pound spacecraft landed in the Pacific Ocean.
In a statement, U.S. military officials said the craft reentered the atmosphere at 8:16 p.m. ET.
Researchers had been closely monitoring the Tiangong-1 space station for months as Earth's gravity pulled it lower and lower in its orbit. Although there was a lot of uncertainty about where and when it could fall, experts maintained that the out-of-control spacecraft posed little risk to people on the ground.
"Since the beginning of the space age, we've counted about 6,600 of these uncontrolled reentries for any type of spacecraft, and out of these 6,600 cases, there have been only 70 where pieces have been found on the ground that were unambiguously identified as coming from a spacecraft," said Stijn Lemmens, a space debris analyst at the European Space Agency, which has been tracking Tiangong-1.
China launched Tiangong-1, which translates to "Heavenly Palace," into orbit in 2011. While operational, the prototype space station played host to Chinese astronauts on two separate missions. It's been empty since 2013, however.
Astonishing space moments of 2017
Astonishing space moments of 2017
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The total solar eclipse Monday August 21, 2017 in Madras, Oregon.
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ROXBURY, NJ - AUGUST 21: The Moon is seen passing in front of the Sun during a Solar Eclipse on August 21, 2017 at Roxbury High School in Roxbury, NJ. A total solar eclipse swept across a narrow portion of the contiguous United States from Lincoln Beach, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina. A partial solar eclipse was visible across the entire North American continent along with parts of South America, Africa, and Europe. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
People watch the total solar eclipse in Guernsey, Wyoming U.S. August 21, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
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Guests watch the sun re-emerge after a total eclipse at the football stadium at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois, U.S., August 21, 2017. Location coordinates for this image are 37ï¿½42'25" N 89ï¿½13'10" W. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
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Cassini team members embrace after the spacecraft was deliberately plunged into Saturn, at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, U.S., September 15, 2017. NASA/Joel Kowsky/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT.??
The spacecraft Cassini is pictured above Saturn's northern hemisphere prior to making one of its Grand Finale dives in this NASA handout illustration obtained by Reuters August 29, 2017. NASA/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
An illustration released by NASA on October 16, 2017 shows a hot, dense, expanding cloud of debris from two neutron stars before they collided. The image was released to mark the first time scientists detected light tied to a gravitational-wave event, from two merging neutron stars in the galaxy NGC 4993, located about 130 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Hydra. NASA/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY
The collision of two black holes - a tremendously powerful event detected for the first time ever by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or LIGO - is seen in this still image from a computer simulation released in Washington February 11, 2016. Scientists have for the first time detected gravitational waves, ripples in space and time hypothesized by Albert Einstein a century ago, in a landmark discovery announced on Thursday that opens a new window for studying the cosmos. REUTERS/The SXS (Simulating eXtreme Spacetimes)/Handout via Reuters FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
WASHINGTON, Oct. 16, 2017 -- Jo van den Brand, spokesperson of the Virgo collaboration, speaks at a news conference about the update on the search for gravitational waves in Washington D.C., the United States, on Oct. 16, 2017. Scientists announced Monday that they have for the first time detected the ripples in space and time known as gravitational waves as well as light from a spectacular collision of two neutron stars. The detection of the gravitational wave signal, called GW170817, was made at 8:41 a.m. EDT (1241 GMT) on August 17 by twin detectors of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), located in Livingston, Louisiana, and Hanford, Washington. (Xinhua/Yin Bogu via Getty Images)
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China was tight-lipped about whether it could still control the station, but officials told the United Nations in 2017 that Tiangong-1 had "ceased functioning."
It's not altogether uncommon for out-of-commission satellites, rocket parts and other pieces of space debris to fall from orbit. Typically, those objects will burn up as they reenter Earth's atmosphere, but occasionally pieces of debris will survive the fiery journey and fall into the ocean — or, less frequently, over land.
"Some components made of heavy or very heat-resistant material — for example, titanium — are likely candidates for surviving reentry," Lemmens said. "These are designed to handle a lot of heat and take a lot of pressure."
Only one person — of Tulsa, Oklahoma — is known to have been hit by space debris. Williams was struck on the shoulder by a piece of a rocket's fuel tank in 1997 while she was out for a walk, but she was uninjured.