A large metal object discovered in a walnut ranch in Hanford, California turned out to be a space debris that fell back to Earth.
The deputies in Kings County who were dispatched on Saturday to investigate the find did not know what the object was. After reaching out to Vandenberg Air Force Base, home of the 30th Space Wing, however, they learned that the object was likely a debris from space.
According to ABC30 News, the object was identified as a fuel tank from a satellite owned by communications satellite company Iridium.
A detective then contacted Iridium to ask for further details about the object. A representative of the company identified the tank as a hydrazine fuel tank, which used to be attached to a communications satellite that Iridium owned and operated.
The tank is believed to have come from Iridium Satellite #70, which was launched into space sometime between late 1997 and early 1998.
The satellite was in low-Earth orbit until it eventually re-entered our planet’s atmosphere. The tank served as storage for fuel used for changing the orbit of the satellite in space.
The tank was positively identified thanks to various government agencies that track space debris.
Iridium said that this particular tank is the first piece that was recovered from an Iridium satellite re-entering Earth’s atmosphere, making it an object of special interest.
Most satellites from low-Earth orbit burn up in the atmosphere or land in the ocean when they fell back to Earth.
According to the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS), between 200 to 400 tracked objects enter Earth’s atmosphere each year but most of them do not survive the re-entry. They burn up and get destroyed long before they hit the ground.
While it is likely that the object was from an Iridium satellite, Iridium spokesman Jordan Hassin, said that it is still too soon to say where it came from pending engineers’ analysis of the object.
“We need to see it,” Hassin said, according to The Fresno Bee. “We may never be 100 percent certain.”
Hassin said that Iridium has dozens of satellites in low-Earth orbit and is now in the process of deorbiting the older ones and putting up new ones.
The tank from space was already turned over to Iridium. It was given to an Iridium employee who traveled to Hanford from Tempe, Arizona on Wednesday just to retrieve it. The object will be closely examined.