In mid-November, a hollow space ball fell from the sky and crashed into the earth in Namibia, the African nation situated above South Africa and west of Botswana and Zimbabwe. Authorities recovered the extraterrestrial sphere in a grassy village north of Windhoek, the country's capital.
The hollow ball, which appears to be made of two halves welded together, has a rough surface, a 14-inch diameter and measures 43 inches around. The strange globe created a crater 13 inches deep and almost 12.5 feet wide, but was found almost 60 feet from the landing spot. Paul Ludik, the police forensics director investigating the case, says the dense ball weighs 13 pounds and is made of a metal alloy known to man.
It is not an explosive device, but rather hollow, said police deputy inspector general Vilho Hifindaka. We had to investigate all this first.
Hifindaka are still stumped as to what the object is and where it came from. NASA and the European Space Agency will reportedly help investigate the strange occurrence.
Local eyewitnesses said they heard a series of booming explosions a few days before the ball was discovered. Authorities say that this phenomenon, while mysterious, is nothing new. Space balls of this nature have been found over the last few decades in countries in Central America and in Australia.
If the Namibia space ball is anything like the those incidents, however, the extraterrestrial sphere is likely a COPV, or composite overwrapped pressure vessel, which NASA uses to store gases under pressure in space environments. COPVs are traditionally made of tough material, such as Kevlar or carbon fiber, in order to maintain the high pressure for its stored gases. NASA says the toughness of the COPV allows it to remain intact upon reentry into the planet's atmosphere.
If NASA or the ESA finds that the ball is a COPV, they could cross-reference the ball with past space missions that required the use of COPV devices. This is how NASA classified the mysterious ball-like tank found in Texas in February, when a drought exposed an old fuel tank from the 2003 explosion of the U.S. space shuttle Columbia. The incident, which occurred on re-entry into the planet's atmosphere, killed all seven astronauts on board and scattered ship debris all over the state.
If it's not a COPV sphere, the space ball could also be part of a defunct rocket or satellite sent from Earth. NASA reports many examples of space junk falling from the sky in 2011; in September, the organization's 6.5-ton Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite, which helped monitor climate, fell to Earth and had parts raining over the Pacific Ocean. In October, the 2.7-ton Roentgen Satellite from Germany broke apart over the Indian Ocean. NASA expects an even larger spacecraft, the 14.5-ton Russian Phobos-Grunt Mars probe, to plummet to the planet. Since launching on Nov. 8, the craft continues to circle lower and lower to the Earth.
NASA and the ESA did not respond to initial inquiries.