A COPV containing helium on board the Shuttle (credit: NASA)

The Mysterious Case of Two Spheres Falling to Earth in Australia and Brazil

Article Updated: 26 Apr , 2016
by

On the March 24th, a story hit the web from Brazil asking for help identifying a mysterious-looking sphere found in farmland. The black, shiny object appeared to be wrapped in fibrous material and it was hot to the touch. Immediately thoughts of extra-terrestrial origin came to mind…

Today, several news sources covered the discovery of a mysterious spherical object found in the Australian outback last year. The farmer who made the discovery has only just started to make enquiries into what the object actually is.

So are the two objects connected in some way? Are they indeed from outer space?

The answer is “yes”, and “yes”. But don’t go getting too excited, they’re not bits from a broken alien spacecraft.

The orb in Brazilian farmland (credit: Daniel Drehmer)

Before their origins are explained, a bit of background: The first story to be released was from Brazil on Monday. Just a small story on Daniel Drehmer’s blog, asking “a space geek from Digg” (Digg.com being the social bookmarking site) for help to identify this strange object found by Sebastião Marques da Costa who described the orb as being hot to the touch. Either it has been heated by the Sun, or it had just crashed to Earth. On seeing the object, it does make for good science fiction material. It’s a very strange looking thing, one meter in diameter, contrasting with the green countryside.

A COPV containing helium on board the Shuttle (credit: NASA)

I was so intrigued by the story, I kept an eye on the blog. The following day, the Second Wave reported that an answer had been found. Obviously the geeks on Digg had been paying attention and identified the object as a Composite Overwrapped Pressure Vessel (or COPV). Put very basically, it’s a high pressure container for inert gases. The space shuttle carries COPVs and it seems likely that these containers will be used for a variety of space missions. They are built with a carbon fibre or Kevlar overcoat to provide reinforcement against the vast pressure gradient between the inside and outside of the container.

If the COPVs are so reinforced, it seems reasonable that they may survive re-entry through the Earth’s atmosphere.

The Australian mystery orb (credit: Reuters)

So what about our Australian farmer? Looking at the picture, the strange object in the Australian outback has some striking similarities to the Brazilian orb (only a lot more damaged).

Today many news sites picked up on the Australian find (well, last year’s find), and call me suspicious, but the timing couldn’t be better. The Australian farmer, James Stirton, who found the object made the surprising statement to the Reuters news agency:

I know a lot of about sheep and cattle but I don’t know much about satellites. But I would say it is a fuel cell off some stage of a rocket.”

That’s one very well informed guess. Perhaps he’s a Digg reader…?

Either way, it would be interesting to find out to what space mission these COPVs belonged to, as it appears they are highly efficient at not only storing fuels being flown into space, they also crash to Earth pretty much intact.

Sources: Reuters, The Second Wave


56 Responses

  1. Neila says:

    Welcome to Oz. 🙂

  2. Damon Hill says:

    The sky IS falling! These may indeed be helium tanks off Centaur or Delta IV upper stages. They’d be light once they vented and separated from the stage during reentry, and would quickly deaccelerate so they’d have a better chance of surviving re-entry heat.

    Better be careful though; hypergolic propellant tanks might be of similar design and the contents will be extremely hazardous. I believe some of Columbia’s propellant tanks survived more or less intact.

  3. LLDIAZ says:

    those are alien droppings

  4. Brian Sheen says:

    Hi Damon,

    Helium tanks will not become lighter when vented unless air is kept out of the tank. Air being heavier than helium. A vacuum is lighter than either – excuse the bad grammer.

    Hypergolic propellant could be aniline and nitric acid – hazardous indeed. For those new to rocket fuel try Googling hypergollic fuel most informative. Thanks for comment.

  5. Brian Sheen says:

    NB just seen a spelling error ;-

    hypergolic is correct not hypergollic.

  6. Alan Ledbury says:

    Hi Brian

    Actually Helium is heavier than Air, at least helium at high pressure is heavier than air at atmospheric pressure.

    The helium in the tank at take off would be at many hundreds of atmospheres but after venting during re-entry would be at the edge of space and an almost a perfect vacuum.

    Incidentally the Aussie farmer probably remembers skylab crashing in Oz and scattering half a dozen similar spheres all over the outback.

    Cheers, Alan

  7. Luke says:

    Dear Y’all

    Bollocks?

    they’re a pair of balls.

    But don’t quote me on that.

    Luke. (crashes and burns)

  8. rpsms says:

    He may know more about sheep and cattle than satelites but also knows more about the *internet* than satelites.

    He did some research and found some photos of a booster stage that had similar tanks attached to it.

  9. Jastev says:

    What about the populated community getting hit by these.
    That’s all we need is to have people killed by falling object s out of the sky.

    Has NASA ever considerd these things hitting around dense areas of population?

  10. Dang It says:

    Dang it. I waz sur’ it wuz a UFO.

  11. Greg Zsidisin says:

    When the shuttle Columbia broke up in 2003, I remember seeing that at least one such pressure vessel survived reentry. It’s not surprising to see similar tanks from a vehicle. It’d be interesting to see someone back-track this to a reentering satellite or stage (US or otherwise). Presumably, it’s from a satellite or top stage – launches are usually planned so lower stages fall into the ocean.

    At the risk of starting a rumor: any chance these could be from USA 193 / NROL-21, the spysat the US destroyed with a sea-launched missile recently?

  12. Ian O'Neill says:

    To quasidog:

    I am not implying he is stupid (in fact, judging by the huge media interest, I suspect he’s far from “stupid”), no where in the text does it say that.

    I just find it to be a huge coincidence that the exact same-looking orb should appear in Brazil three days before the massive media interest in the Australia “find”. Keep in mind, the Australia orb was found a year ago, and he’s stored it ever since.

    I’m implying (if you read carefully) that the farmer had a strange looking orb in storage, *not knowing* what it was. Then he, or someone he knows perhaps (I say perhaps, this in no way “proof”, just my opinion) said, “hey, looks like you have a piece of a spaceship there, on Digg I saw a similar one in Brazil…” The Australian farmer then goes public, already knowing it was from a satellite – hense the media buzz.

    Good for him is what I say, I’d go to the press if I found one of these on my ranch… if I had a ranch that is!

    Cheers, Ian

  13. Wayne Hally says:

    I wonder if might be pices of the shot down USA 193?

  14. Bob Lynch says:

    Folks, lets get some of the science straight here, could we?

    The word hypergolic doesn’t imply dangerous itself, no more than ‘hydrogen’ implies bomb. Realistically, these spherical high pressure cells vented every last gram of their contents to space and the upper atmosphere during reentry, and even supposing not … then while perched in the middle of the fields where they lay. Hypergolic MIXTURES must by their nature be very volatile and kept very separate until needed. Hypergolic COMPOUNDS are not engineered into spacecraft, as they have the tendency to spontaneously detonate.

    Next up, the silly worry about whether someone would get hurt by one of these things hurling themselves into a city. 99.99% of this planet is NOT city. Even if hundreds of these things were dropping out of the sky per year, there would still only be a 1 in hundred chance that one would bounce into a city. Even there, the majority of a city isn’t covered by people, but buildings, streets and unpeopled area. We’re talking REAL low probabilities, since the true number per year is most likely less than a few dozen.

    Lastly, what the heck is up with the disbelief that a “lowly sheepherd” knows something about satellites – enough to say a relatively well imformed idea? Good Lord, I make all sorts of reasonably informed assertions WITHOUT researching on Google all the time, and I’m no rocket scientist. Why? Because I actually listened to the science teachers in grade-and-high school. I read SciAm and other journals-for-the-masses. I’ll never be a frikkin’ space scientist, just as I’ll never be a car mechanic. However, I can tell you how just about every component of both spacecraft and cars work.

    Geez. Let’s grow up a bit here, folks.

  15. blitzio says:

    Could probably be pieces of the US satellite shot down on Feb 21, the Pentagon informed the public to expect the pieces to start coming down right about this time.

  16. quasidog says:

    ” “I know a lot of about sheep and cattle but I don’t know much about satellites. But I would say it is a fuel cell off some stage of a rocket.”

    That’s one very well informed guess. Perhaps he’s a Digg reader…?”

    ? Maybe he just used deductive reasoning? Just because he is an Aussie farmer, doesn’t mean he is stupid.

  17. El 24 de marzo una noticia golpeó a la Red desde Brasil: se pedía ayuda para identificar una esfera de aspecto misterioso encontrada en el terreno de una granja. […] Fuente: Ian O’Neill en Universe Today.

  18. giovanni says:

    has vanyone wondered as to what would happen if one of those thanks fell onto a big city? it would appear that the americans went to the trouble of shooting down a satelite recently just to destroy what appeared to have been a similar thank

  19. Sanjeev Narula says:

    As we know there are piles of reasons to believe the existence of alien life, such unidentified things should not surprise us. We must wait for the day when we are face to face with them.

  20. WADE says:

    THAT EXPLAINS THE 2 OBJECTS WHAT WAS SEEN GOING NORTH TO SOUTH BACK IN OCT. OVER AND ALONG THE FLORIDA COAST.

  21. Apollo says:

    Thats not space junk, its a “Furball” coughed up from google earth!

  22. Jim Morisan says:

    A variation of the aviation gas container tank with insulation could be used to contain hydrogen at refuel spots in north america. Otherwise Japan like usual have a new reason to call the USA numbnuts country of the world..

  23. Genie says:

    Based in my scientific examination, these what so called “space spheres” are not space spheres at all. these are more of God’s Buggers(joking). Truth: It may have been a spaceship of a little alien that these aliens died inside. Unfortunately for them, we are able to probe it; on the other hand, researchers/examiners of the sphere seems does not know how to open it.

    These kind of space superb are really hard to debunk….(I was thinking to debunk it, but seems I can’t at all)

  24. phil says:

    dis is intresting! lolmfao

    i definatly think that’s a tank from a space craft. possibly the spys satilite (dont mind my discusting spelling), so i find it no couincidence that these things arent ailen. but its probably intresting to find a spacecraft in the outback anyway!!

  25. Jesus Freak says:

    Brothers and Sisters. Those are God’s golf balls. He was most likely trying to bank them off Earth to sink them in the nearest black hole. Even God misses sometimes.

    God Bless you all. Heathens!

  26. virus says:

    It’s just a propaganda.
    The pictures dont show any evidence that these spheres have fallen from outer space, since there are no marks of high temperature on the ground where the sphere lies or even a hole that proves the impact.
    Hard to believe it.

  27. flyfastgirl says:

    what doesn’t surprise me is that nothing fell on Usa soil. I dont mind lenthy explainations and funny inserts. I am also glad no one has been hurt with falling debree yet but I am sure that is to come. I find it amusing tho- and typical the plan to which all things fall!

  28. Astron says:

    They will be known as whatever they tell us they are, like all other odd things that are space related or seemingly so.

  29. andre says:

    je crois a mille pour cent aux petit hommes vert
    et la c est un bon reservoir de carburant
    type fibre synthetique made in terrestre a+

  30. We probably know the rockets responsible for dropping the two tanks: see the links in the 2nd paragraph of this story. Apparently tanks make it to the ground quite frequently; the Delta 2 is notorious for doing it.

  31. JosephMendiola says:

    A long-time Netter over at SPACE.com has argued that two Submitter-proclaimed observed NEOS were very likely the ISS + another SpaSat – however, after midnite [Guam time], I myself observed two linear large fiery balls in the sky over Hagatna, in addition to other phenomenon e.g. POSSIBLE COMET/ASTEROID STREAK OVER THE SPHERE OF THE MOON.

  32. quasidog says:

    To Ian O’Neill,

    OK, my apologies. I got a soft spot for Aussie Farmers hehe … got all defensive ;p

  33. Mike says:

    It must be the extremely tough fuel tanks the US wanted to destroy when it shot down its Spy sat, or alien droppings.

  34. Tom Haberthaler says:

    I sure hope that none of this space debris ever hits everyone. Seems that people in Austrailia and Brazil have been lucky this time. I mean it looks heavy and if hit by that crashing to the earth, someone may have been killed. Someone may have been hospitalized. Anyone hit by something like that ought to be entitled to multiple millions!

  35. John Fredericks says:

    What kind of satellite parts has weird fur on it?

  36. Larry says:

    Oo!!! It’s a Dragonball. That’s what they look like after you make your wish. hehe.

  37. Speakers says:

    Could be from the downed satellite – true – but I like the comment about the hairball from Google Earth 🙂

  38. newton silva says:

    This is from Russian or US artifacts in space.

  39. bumblebee says:

    Look like rather large sheep droppings to me. Large alien sheep. Large alien sheep in Australia. Large alien sheep in Australia on an intelligent Australian sheep herder’s ranch. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

  40. Scott Houdek says:

    Hmmmm, I hate to be funny, but, could be the old movie props from the movie “SPACEBALLS”, hey, I could be wrong!;););)

  41. Kerrie says:

    I was one of a group of people here in Australia who helped to make a tentative identification of the “mystery ball” for Jim Stirton late last year after he first found the piece of debris on his land. We identified it then as a pressure vessel possibly from an Atlas or Delta.

    My understanding is that he later sought confirmation from The Aerospace Corporation’s Centre for Orbital and Re-entry Debris studies and they confirmed its probable identity to Mr. Stirton, as a helium bottle from a 1998 Atlas II launch, around March 21 or 22.

    The timing of having the identification confirmed in late March may just be a co-incidence, but I would guess that the fuss about the Brazilian find prompted Mr. Stirton to contact the media about it, once he had an indea of what it was . Maybe, as a recently drought-stricken farmer, he was hoping someone would offer to buy it!

    BTW, Australia is a very big, very empty landmass (think population of New York in a country the size of the US), so the likelihood of a piece of space debris hitting a population centre here is pretty low. Bits of space debris do turn up from time to time in the outback (Jim Stirton’s was the second piece I’d been asked about within a few months): sometimes the material is on the ground for a long time (even years) before it is discovered, since no-one has previously passed that way to find it.

  42. Lee says:

    So THAT’S where my PokeBalls went. Careful, I think the one in Australia is Jigglypuff, which means the Brazilian one’s Squirtle (by the way, Pres. Bush was recently told of a Brazilian soldier’s perishing in Afghanistan. He was visibly shaken but finally said: “Is a brazillion more or less than a million?”) (Rimshot, please.)

  43. alphonso richardson says:

    Just goes to show, we need to be keping tabs on all the junk we keep sending up & leaving there

  44. B29 says:

    Seeing that this is a science-oriented website, I don’t understand the need for the author to use silly phrases such as “…thoughts of extra-terrestrial origin come to mind…” and “Are they really from outer space?”. Sensationalism is not fitting here, I believe.

    I liked the article – just, the choice of words irks me.

    Lee: “brazillion?!” :p

  45. TARZAN says:

    shut up nerds

  46. JANE says:

    Tarzan this page is made for nerds. So what.

  47. Pepe says:

    Hello, my friends,

    Plese access the article about crash objects in Brazil in the world:
    http://www.viafanzine.jor.br/astronautica3

    This text by prof. Ildefonso Souza, brazilian fisical, explain 10 pics of crashs objetcts and the fragment of research by Mr. Ian O’neil about the “spheres crashs”.

    The original portuguese idiom, to translate, please, access Google Translation:
    http://translate.google.com/translate_t

    Best regards,

    Pepe Chaves – spacial researcher
    from Brazil
    http://www.viafanzine.jor.br

  48. Not the Central Intelligence Agency says:

    They are nothing of consequence. They are most likely solidified swamp gas balls (very common) or also common wild giant black pumpkins.
    Forget about them. Do not discuss them. Please send your names and addresses to project_outer_banks@no.org. Also include when you are most likely to be alone and vulnerable.
    You never read this.

  49. Agreeable ordinary private citizen says:

    Yes, that makes perfect sense. These grow all over the undisclosed area I live in. We definately should stop speculating and accept that these are common objects. Yip, definately nothing out of the ordinary here. Just common wild giant black pumpkins and/or solidified swamp gas. Well that settles it. I can go about myy daily routine again. Whew. What a relief. I sure hate thinking. I love TV. We should all watch more of it.

  50. Emerson says:

    Bob Lynch Mar 28th

    Good on you. Commonsense isn’t a lost art.

  51. Pete says:

    What’s the explanation for them being ‘hot to the touch”?

  52. UK Dave says:

    What kind of function do these things serve? Why is the helium vented? To lighten the craft or as a flame retardant?

  53. Alan Ledbury says:

    Hi UK Dave

    They store helium gas under pressure,

    The helium is piped into the fuel tanks and presurises them for 2 reasons.

    1) the pressure forces the fuel out of the tanks, into the pumps and then the egines,

    2) they make the tank stiff, think of a plastic cola bottle and how rigid it gets when you shake it up, then think how weak it gets when you vent it ( that means unscrewing the cap)

    The tanks have to be strong enough to support the payload at the top of the stack
    under accelleration, the helium actually supports the payload.

    Why Helium ???, well it has to be inert, compressed air could feed a fire and cause the fuel tank to expload, compressed CO2 is inert but very heavy.

    Why vented ???, as the ship breaks up on re-entry the pipework burns up and the helium just escapes, it not intentional

    Hope this is clear

    Cheers and beers, Alan

  54. Agreeable ordinary private citizen says:

    They are warm to the touch because wild pumpkins and/or solidified swamp gas are great insulators for solar heat. I saw that on T.V.

    I can’t wait to watch more. Ooops…gotta go. The movie “Conspiracy Theory” is coming on in a few minutes.

  55. Tom Haberthaler says:

    Let me take this opportunity to remind everyone that a very mysterious orb washed up onto the beach here near Charleston, SC some years back. It was metalic and a sphere but beyond that, nobody around here actually knows what it is or where it came from. Some of us thought it may have been an object from WWII but that’s all any of us had, just theories. Nobody knew with any certainty. It was just eventually hauled off to some police station I believe and forgotten about by most. An old saying, “Mankind is lost for lack of knowledge…”

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