See China's doomed Tiangong-1 space station cross the heavens

The ill-fated Tiangong-1 Chinese space station stars in a heavenly photo that shows it streaking across a field of stars.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
2 min read

There won't be very many more opportunities for people on Earth to catch sight of China's star-crossed Tiangong-1 space station. 

Astronomer Gianluca Masi, with The Virtual Telescope Project, was lucky enough to capture a challenging transit photo showing the space station crossing in front of some classic constellations.

Enlarge Image

The doomed Chinese "Heavenly Palace" space station moves across the night sky.

Gianluca Masi/Virtual Telescope Project

The space station appears as a long streak of light against a backdrop of stars that include the Orion, Taurus and Auriga constellations. The image is subtle, stark and quietly dramatic, especially considering the space station's pending date with destruction.

Tiangong translates to "Heavenly Palace" in English, but it's going to be earthly wreckage soon as the out-of-control space lab is set to re-enter the atmosphere sometime in late March or early April. 

The China National Space Administration (CNSA) launched Tiangong-1 in 2011, but reportedly lost command of the roughly 9-ton craft in 2016. 

The original plans for a controlled re-entry over the Pacific ocean have now been replaced with a set of question marks. We don't know yet where the space station will burn up or if any pieces of it will survive to reach the ground. 

Masi snapped the space station from a vantage point in Rome on March 9 after following its location through the Heavens Above tracking site. He used a Canon 5D Mark IV on a tripod with a 13-second exposure to capture the streaking station while minimizing star movement.

Masi expects this view of the Heavenly Palace to be one of his last good looks at the space station before its demise. He expresses hope it will burn up entirely on re-entry, but we will all have to wait to discover its ultimate destination.

Cosmic dead ringers: 27 super strange-looking space objects

See all photos