Strange metal sphere that fell from the sky

 Cnn Dam Assets 111223024332-Space-Ball-Story-Top This 13-pound, 3.6 foot metal ball fell from the sky in the Republic of Namibia in southern Africa last month. Nobody has claimed ownership. From CNN:

Paul Ludik, director of the country's National Forensic Science Institute, told The Namibian the sphere… is made of a "sophisticated" metal alloy that is known to man, but he said it has no markings that would identify it…

Ludik told The Namibian that the object poses no cause for alarm, and that such reports of metallic spheres falling from space are common in the Southern Hemisphere.

"Mysterious metal ball from space falls in Namibia"



  1. The original article said 3.6 foot circumference, which would make it a little over 13 inches across. Isn’t that about the size of Sputnik?
    Edit: No, Sputnik was 23″ across.

    1. A heavily built tank, perhaps engineered to hold 6000 psi of gas, could survive re-entry with little damage. There are pictures of bigger tanks than this from Columbia which looked okay after crashing to Earth.

    2. Depends totally on the terminal velocity of the object in question.  A hollow tank might never achieve speeds (and thus heat) high enough to lead to damage.

      1. Actually objects that fall from orbit start out at orbital velocity, which can be much faster than terminal velocity. Heat of reentry is due to objects exceeding their terminal velocity.  A sphere would have a relatively high terminal velocity, so the delta is smaller than for (say) te heat shields on manned vehicles.

  2. Somewhere on Kepler 22B:




    “THEY ATE IT.”

  3. I’m no expert, but looks an awful lot like a helium tank from a Russian Salyut 7-Cosmos 1686 (Kosmos 1686) spacecraft assembly.  Here’s one that came down in 1991:
    It perfectly matches the 3.6 feet in circumference and weighed 16 pounds instead of 13.

    1. Yeah if it’s titanium that explains the fact it wouldn’t melt on re-entry…

      I’m pretty sure they could say titanium, not “sophisticated metal alloy know to man.”

      1. Well, it’s probably one of those high grade titanium alloys which include a fair percentage of relatively exotic elements like molybdenum, zirconium, niobium, etc.

        1. Just about everything made from titanium is an alloy. Titanium on its own has no particularly endearing structural properties.

      1. Yeah no fatalities, a few people with chest pains and such, but otherwise fine, most of everything that can fall down fell down in the previous quakes, but the 6km deep magnitude 6 quake was fairly nasty and only 20km from me, wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.

        But then our house was totally destroyed in the Feb quake, so we are in rental properties now, so the minor damage that this house sustained is something for the owner to worry about.

        But more importantly everyone is safe.

  4. You know, seeing “CHECK OUT THE BOING BOING GIFT GUIDE AND SORT OUT ALL YOUR LAST-MINUTE GIFTS!” right above this posting is really delightful. I wanted to click through and see where i could get my very own mysterious sphere that fell from the sky.

  5. Quick point:  “Fell from the sky” does not necessarily mean “fell from space”. Could be something off a malfunctioning airplane, for example. Or tornado debris. Or some kid playing with a homebrew cannon.

    Looking closer to home might yield better answers.

  6. Funny — I saw this on another site earlier today and immediately thought of the spherical tanks (I think I painted them salmon-colored, for some long-forgotten reason) from the legendary MPC 1:100 Vostok model rocket I built as a ‘tween.

  7. The phrase “known to man” is such a groaning cliche. I really hope a junior reporter (or perhaps ‘cub reporter’ would be better here) phoned up and breathlessly asked, “Is this thing made of an alloy unknown to man?” and got an answer using his own phrasing. Because if the director of the forensic whatsit institute simply called a conference and out of the blue said, “It’s made of an alloy known to man!” then I’d think there was something wrong with him. 

    1. Also, even if you wanted to emphasise that it’s not of alien origin – why would extraterrestrial aliens necessarily use alloys *not* known to man? Everyone has the same physics after all.

      1. Well, we’ve always had the same physics, but only relatively recently did we become aware of (for example) titanium…

    1. I remember that (Jacksonville is my hometown). Not sure what happened, but I do know that the local paper mill insisted that it was a piece of equipment from their operations, part of a “valve” of some sort. Just kind of slid off the radar around 1977 or so locally.

  8. Definitely a tank from some sort of satellite; reports say that there were a series of “booms” heard before it fell, which is consistent with debris reentry.  It does look like the helium tanks found around the circumference of the Vostok/Voskhod instrument module but is a bit larger. The article says that it fell between the 15th and 20th of November, which made me think that perhaps it was related to some launches that took place. However, this falls within the time that the Shenzhou-8 was returning to Earth (it landed on Nov. 18). I wonder if this might be a tank from Shenzhou’s instrument module (could just ask the Chinese National Space Agency, but…)?

  9. Let us hope there isn’t a semi-castrated alien looking for that. But I think it’s more likely that it’s us from the end of time.

  10. Funny, I would have thought that space trash would be more likely to be found lying about in the northern hemisphere, since the southern hemisphere is mostly sea.

  11. Seems that the BoingBoing community has once again solved a great mystery, but wouldn’t it be easier if people put identification on these things?  I know that weight is important for space stuff, but I’m sure etching in a serial number can’t do any harm to space technologies.  Maybe I’m wrong.

    1. If you put identification on it, then you’ll start getting tickets in the mail from Nambia for littering. 

  12. On Christmas eve said NORAD
    A Soviet Sputnik hit Africa
    It’s falling fast 
    Peru too
    It keeps coming
    And now I’m mad about 
    Space junk
    I’m all burned out about 
    Space junk
    Oooh walk & talk about 
    Space junk
    It smashed my baby’s head
    And now my Sally’s dead

  13. There’s a good reason why these show up in namibia on a somewhat frequent bases.

    1. Pretty cool, I wondered how long I’d have to scroll before a bb’er found a plausible match.  Kudos Muchos.

  14. Do be careful! Don’t lose any of that stuff. That’s concentrated evil. One drop of that could turn you all into hermit crabs.

  15. there is a HUGE problem with anyone “claiming” this object… the next one may do damage and who ever claims this one will therefore be responsible for damages… 

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