A large object landed on your sheep farm. He came from space.

Mick Miners was herding sheep on an ATV last week when he came across a spiky black object that appeared to be over 9 feet tall. It reminded him of a burnt tree or a piece of agricultural machinery.

“Pretty scary actually,” Miners, 48, said by phone Thursday from his roughly 5,000-acre property in a remote corner of southeastern Australia.

“I was quite surprised,” he added. “It’s not something you see every day on a sheep farm.”

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The miners took a photo and sent it to a neighboring farmer, Jock Wallace, who discovered an equally mysterious object on his farm a few days earlier.

It was space debris.

The US space agency NASA said in a statement that SpaceX confirmed the object was likely the remaining part of the discarded trunk segment of a Dragon spacecraft used during the return of the Crew-1 mission from the International Space Station in May of the year. past. “If you believe you have identified a piece of debris, please do not attempt to handle or retrieve the debris,” NASA said.

Space debris refers to equipment in space that no longer works. Most space debris burns upon re-entering the atmosphere, and much of what is left usually falls into the ocean. However, with more spacecraft entering orbit – such as those from private companies like SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk – impacts on the ground could happen more frequently. SpaceX did not respond to a request for comment.

Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, said it is not uncommon for space debris to be found on land after an uncontrolled re-entry.

“It was a little surprising to me that so much of the trunk survived the reentry heating process,” McDowell said, but added that there was no indication that there was anything particularly risky in the trunk. He said that in the new commercial era of space exploration, it has been much more difficult to get technical information from private companies to assess risk. With more information, “we could have a better assessment of, ‘Have we just been very unlucky, or should we expect this from all log re-entries if they happen over land?’”

The trunk segment, which is used to carry cargo and also includes the spacecraft’s solar panels and radiators, is jettisoned from the capsule body shortly after burning is complete as it de-orbits. “It normally burns in the atmosphere in the open ocean, posing a minimal risk to public safety,” the Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement.

Last week, after debris from a large Chinese rocket re-entered Earth’s atmosphere over the Indian Ocean, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson issued a rebuke, saying China “did not share trajectory-specific information when its Long March rocket 5B crashed back to Earth. .” He added that all countries should “share this type of information in advance to allow reliable predictions of the potential risk of debris impact, especially for heavy vehicles such as the Long March 5B, which carry a significant risk of loss of life and properties”.

The possibility that the rocket’s wreckage had hit a populated area has led people from all over the world to follow its trajectory for days. This was the third flight of Long March 5B, China’s largest rocket, which made what is called an “uncontrolled re-entry” back to Earth.

Last year, a malfunction caused a SpaceX rocket stage to complete an uncontrolled re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere near Seattle in what appeared to be glowing objects lighting up the night sky. Pieces of the burning rocket’s wreckage landed on a farmer’s property in Washington state. Debris re-entered the atmosphere after 22 days in orbit.

The Australian countryside where miners discovered space debris on July 25 is about 100 miles south of the capital, Canberra.

Ron Lane, a restaurant owner in the town of Dalgety, said most people in the area — with the notable exception of himself — weren’t especially worried about additional space debris that could fall on them or their homes.

“If there are three that we know of, there could be 10 that we don’t know about,” Lane said by phone from his restaurant, Tuscany In Dalgety.

Miners, who was born on the farm where he discovered the unidentified wreckage, said his neighbor, Wallace, called authorities to report the other wreckage he found on his own property in early July. Public interest grew, Miners said, after Wallace called the Australian national broadcaster, which later reported on the farmers’ findings and said three pieces of debris had been found.

“Then everyone found out and I got about 300 calls,” said Miners, who has about 5,500 sheep, 100 oxen and 30 horses on his farm in the Numbla Vale district.

His own piece of debris is nearly 10 feet tall by 1.3 feet, he said, and an Australian Space Agency official called on Thursday to say that his experts planned to visit his property next week to “take a look at it.” ”.

Miners said that so far he had enjoyed learning the preliminary details about how the wreckage fell and that he wasn’t sure what would happen next.

He said he would be “happy to keep it” but was also interested in “a little bit of compensation” if the space agencies or the company wanted it back.

Sa’id Mosteshar, professor of international space law and director of the London Institute of Space Law and Policy, said a person can only claim damages if the wreckage harms him or causes any damage to his property.

“My guess is they’ll want it back,” added Miners. “I don’t know. I don’t know anything about it. Like I said, I’m a sheep farmer.”

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