Beware of fake videos circulating that claim to show a Chinese rocket

Ever since authorities announced that a Chinese rocket would fall back to Earth in an uncontrolled re-entry last weekend, many fake videos of this incident have emerged on social media and have even made their way to international media outlets.

These three videos claim to show the return the Chinese Long March 5B rocket to Earth. But none of them actually show this incident.
These three videos claim to show the return the Chinese Long March 5B rocket to Earth. But none of them actually show this incident. © FRANCE 24 Observers

According to state media, the Long March 5B re-entered the atmosphere at 10.24am Beijing time on Sunday May 9, 2021. The coordinates put the point of impact in the Indian Ocean somewhere above the Maldives archipelago and south of India. 

Since then, many images have been circulating on social media, mainly on Twitter, supposedly showing authentic images of the Chinese spaceship falling. At least three of these videos have been identified as fake by the FRANCE 24 Observers team.

Video 1: A video of the Chinese rocket falling? No, it's a meteor in Australia

This video was shared on Twitter by various users, who claim it shows the moment that Long March 5B re-entered the atmosphere. However, this video was actually filmed in 2016

If you look carefully, you can see the date and coordinates on the bottom right corner of the video.

Capture d'écran d'un météore tombé près de l'Australie le 18 février 2016
Capture d'écran d'un météore tombé près de l'Australie le 18 février 2016 © OverWatch Security

You can find the original video by using the Invid app (which you can see how to use here). This video was published on February 18, 2016, and shows a meteor falling from the sky, which is a natural phenomenon that happens multiple times every year.

Video 2: A video of a rocket exploding in the atmosphere? Yes, but it shows a different rocket, which landed in March

Although this video claims to show the Chinese spacecraft, it actually shows another space-related incident.

Filmed on March 25, 2021, these images show the debris of the SpaceX Falcon 9 as it returned to Earth. They capture the second stage of the rocket’s re-entry process, as it broke up during its return to the Earth’s atmosphere. The video was posted on Instagram pages such as the one below.

Video of SpaceX debris published on March 29, 2021.

Video 3: A video of the rocket as it landed in the ocean? No, it’s probably just of a civilian plane

An Indian Twitter account claims to have received a video via WhatsApp depicting the moment the rocket landed in the Pacific Ocean.

Many international media outlets, such as the UK's Daily Mail, contacted the 'owner' of the video on Twitter to get permission to publish it. Others, such as this Chinese television station or this Italian one, broadcast the clip on air.

The FRANCE 24 Observers team has not been able to find the original source of this video. However, visual clues indicate that it does not show a rocket crash. For example, lights can be seen flashing in a very specific and homogeneous way, like a civil aircraft. 

To find out more, we contacted Mick West, an aviation expert and founder of the website Metabunk, who shed led on what we can see in the video.

What we see is an airplane, there are other examples of similar videos on the internet. It has a smoke trail, which at an angle can look odd, but it is just a compressed perspective. The airplane is flying toward the camera and it’s below the camera, which gives the illusion that it is tilted downwards. All aircraft like the one in this video [and also in the one below] are in level flight: this means that they neither 'go up' nor 'go down'.

Vidéos d’avions montrant les mêmes effets que l’ont peut voir sur la vidéo prétendant être la “chute de la fusée chinoise”.

This video is also filmed in ridiculously low resolution.  This is a common sign of a hoax. If the video were of better quality, it would be easy to see that it is an aeroplane. And the "smoke" we see in the video is a contrail, a type of cloud made of water.

Another simulation and aeronautics expert from ‘The Jetesons Association’, who prefers to stay anonymous, added: 

What we see in this video is a plane. A piece of debris is literally falling while the trajectory visible on the video is weakly descending. I also seem to see navigation lights, so there is no way this is a piece of rocket or launcher.

Although there is no evidence to fully certify that this video shows an aeroplane, one thing is sure: it cannot be the Long March 5B rocket, as visual clues and our aeronautical specialists prove. 

Actual footage of the Long March 5B

Long March 5B was launched on April 29, 2021 carrying the main module of China's new space station, and was on its first of the 11 expected missions to complete the project.

One of the only authenticated videos showing Long March 5B debris on Earth to date can be seen in the video below published by The Guardian news site.

It is common for parts of rockets to fall back to Earth. But this caused great concern because of the lack of accurate information about where the 18 tonnes of debris, a colossal weight not seen for decades, would fall.

Have you spotted any other images that you would like us to verify? Feel free to submit them to us on our Twitter account @Observers!