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

Mick Miners was herding sheep in a four-wheeler last week when he tripped over a pointed black object that appeared to be more than three meters high. He reminded her of a burned tree or a piece of farm 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.”

Mr. Miners took a photo and sent it to a neighboring farmer, Jock Wallace, who discovered a similar mysterious object on his farm a few days earlier.

It was space junk.

US space agency NASA said in a statement that SpaceX confirmed the object was likely the remaining part of a discarded trunk segment from a Dragon spacecraft used during the return of the Crew-1 mission from the International Space Station in May 2019. last year. “If you think you have identified a piece of debris, do not attempt to manipulate or retrieve the debris,” NASA said.

Space debris refers to equipment in space that no longer works. Most space debris burns up when it re-enters the atmosphere, and much of what remains often falls into the ocean. However, with more spacecraft entering orbit, such as those from private companies like SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk, ground impacts may occur more frequently. SpaceX did not immediately respond to the comment.

Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, said it’s not uncommon to find space debris on the ground after an uncontrolled re-entry.

“I was a bit surprised that much of the trunk survived the heating process of re-entry,” Dr. 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 for space exploration, it has been much more difficult to obtain technical information from private companies to assess risk. With more information, “we might have a better assessment of, ‘Are we really unlucky, or should we expect this from all trunk reentries if they happen overland?’ ”

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 the burn is complete as it departs from orbit. “It typically burns up in the atmosphere over the open ocean, posing 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 specific information about the trajectory when its Long March 5B rocket backed up. to earth.” He added that all countries should “share this type of information in advance to enable 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 lives and property.

The possibility that debris from the rocket may have hit a populated area led people around the world to track 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” 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 that lit up the night sky. Pieces of debris from the burning rocket landed on a farmer’s property in Washington state. The debris had re-entered the atmosphere after 22 days in orbit.

The rural area of ​​Australia where Miners discovered the space debris on July 25 is about 100 miles south of the capital, Canberra.

Ron Lane, a restaurant owner in Dalgety City, said most people in the area, with the notable exception of himself, were not particularly concerned about the possibility of more space debris falling on them or their homes. .

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

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

“Then everyone found out and I’ve had about 300 calls,” said Miners, who has about 5,500 sheep, 100 cattle 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 Thursday to say its experts planned to visit his property next week to “take a look at it.”

Mr. Miners said that so far he had enjoyed learning preliminary details about how the debris had fallen and was not sure what would happen next.

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

Sa’id Mosteshar, a professor of international space law and director of the London Institute of Space Law and Policy, said a person could claim compensation only if the debris damaged them or caused them some harm. property.

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

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