Australian sheep farmers discovered two large pieces of space debris and several other smaller scraps scattered in the middle of a paddock last month that may have belonged to the SpaceX Crew-1’s Dragon Capsule.
Wedged into pastures in New South Wales, Australia, witnesses believe the debris re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere on July 9 after reports of a large bang was heard within a 100-mile radius across the Snowy Mountains, Australian media reports.
Mick Miners, who runs a sheep farm in the region, came across a nearly 10-foot black and gray piece of space junk that looked similar to the Dragon Capsule’s trunk on his property last month, giving him quite a shock.
“I wasn’t quite sure what to think about it all,” Miners told Australian media. “I looked, and then I had a look around, and it made me sort of wonder a bit what was going on when things just start falling out of the sky.”
Miners then approached his neighboring farmer, who also found similar-looking debris a week earlier.
“I think it’s a concern it’s just fallen out of the sky,” Jock Wallace told Australian media. “If it landed on your house it would make a hell of a mess.”
Searching for answers about the mysterious objects that fell from the stars, Wallace contacted the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, who told him to connect with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in the United States.
“I’m a farmer from Dalgety,” he said. “What am I going to say to NASA?”
Brad Tucker, an astrophysicist at Australia National University College of Science, told local media he believes one of the objects came from the trunk of the SpaceX Crew-1 Dragon mission, which launched in November 2020.
“It’s hard to always be 100% in science,” Tucker said. “I would say, with very little doubt, that this is a piece of space junk — the things that we’ve been seeing here.”
Tucker said that based on the structure’s build, composition, and some of the materials marked with subtle details — such as scarring patterns from re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere — have led him to believe the bits of space junk came from the trunk of the SpaceX mission.
“From a distance as well, it just looks like an old burnt tree stump,” Tucker told Space.com. “It wasn’t until you got closer you realize there is something off about it.”
Although SpaceX has not yet confirmed if the debris belonged to the revolutionary space technology company, its Crew-1 Dragon spacecraft that carried four astronauts splashed down into the Gulf of Mexico near Panama City on May 2, 2021.
“Hopefully, SpaceX can confirm it is their part,” Tucker said, adding that Elon Musk’s company did not do anything wrong. “In fact, the whole point was to have the bits break up — as we see — and land in the ocean.”
“It just didn’t quite land in the ocean,” he added. “Probably most of it still did. This is part of the normal plan.”
Jonathon McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian collaboration Center for Astrophysics, said in a tweet that the space object landed near the Dragon’s re-entry path and “is a good match to one of the Dragon trunk fins.”
Space debris crash-landing into the Earth’s surface has happened in the past before the sheep farmers’ case.
Australian astrophysicist Tucker said the U.S. Space Station’s Skylab crashed over Esperance, Western Australia in the 1970s. During the 1980s, another incident occurred with a Russian nuclear-powered satellite plunging into Canadian land. And approximately 40 years later, a Chinese rocket booster damaged buildings in West Africa’s Ivory Coast in 2020.
In 1997, the only recorded incident of a piece of space debris landing on someone was the case of Lottie Williams in Oklahoma, who was hit in the shoulder with an object, BBC reports.
However, the two sheep farmers were thankful to have dodged the debris.
“Yeah, I don’t think you’d fare too well if it landed on you,” Wallace said.
Although Wallace admits, it’s quite exciting to know the debris crashed into his “paddy.”
If SpaceX confirms the debris belongs to one of its spacecraft, Tucker said a legal process must play out between Australia and U.S.government officials.
“This is becoming almost an international incident,” Tucker said. “Not in a bad sense — but this is how space is governed through treaties and at a national level and preserving and representing the interests of the people in Australia like Mick and Jock.”