What object fell on Brazil?

By Phil Plait | March 25, 2008 12:30 pm

Jim Oberg sent me an odd note: a news article from Brazil has pictures and a description of a weird thing that fell to the ground a few hundred kilometers south and west of Brasilia (translated in the email Jim sent me):

An unidentified object fell on a farm on Goias, Brazil. The farmers are afraid that the object may be something radioactive or part of something dangerous. So far, it seems that the local police discards the possibilities of it being a weather balloon. The object has approximately 1 meter in diameter; it is made of steel and covered in some kind of plastic. It has an axle inside and seems to be of copper.

Anyone have any clue what this thing might be? I’m not sure if it came from an airplane or from orbit; there don’t appear to be any burn marks, but sometimes space debris doesn’t have them. Still, beats me. I know a few aeronautical engineers and rocket scientists read this blog, so if you have any thoughts, pipe up! Weird.

Update: We seem to have a winner. It looks very much like a fuel tank, called a composite overwrap pressure vessel. Robin Titus in the comments was the first to specify, for the record. He wins nothing. As a personal friend of mine, though, he has already won.


Comments (83)

  1. IRONMANAustralia

    Looks like a motorcycle of some kind.

  2. Marc

    Could it be space poo? 😀

  3. Kesh

    It looks like a giant toilet reservoir float. o.O

  4. It doesn’t look very heavy (no crater, eh). I think it’s either one of those ballons that they put on power cables to warn helicopter pilots, or a steel “balloon” meant to float on the water to hold fishing nets afloat.

  5. Michelle

    @Kesh: EXACTLY what came to mind here.

    The giant UFO aliens are really starting to be messy.

  6. It looks like a carbon-fiber-wrapped fuel tank for a satellite’s maneuvering engine to me, somewhat the worse for wear after re-entry. Such tanks have fallen to earth before, google tells us.

  7. Jon H

    It’s a space bobber.

    The alien’s line caught somebody in a trailer park somewhere near there, but the person ran and the line broke. This bobber fell off. Hospitals nearby should be checked for people with large puncture wounds or impalements.

  8. STrimmer

    Nope, there is no doubt in my mind that that is a motorcycle.

  9. I’m not an expert, but if it came from space, wouldn’t it have dome some damage to the ground around it? Burn marks, crater, impact point….?

  10. Dee


    What a great answer. I can’t stop laughing. Good one!!!

  11. zeb

    A jug of alien whiskey! Actually, It looks like it’s covered in electrical tape.

  12. Gary

    Giant ball of duct tape wound on a wooden dowel.

    Don’t you people ever watch Red Green?

    And you call yourselves scientists!

  13. Josh

    Maybe they moved it before taking that picture?

  14. Michael Lonergan

    Yeah, motorbike, that has possibly been cruising around on the Moon given how dirty it is.

    I’m not sure about the round thing. Geez, Phil, you’re the astronomer! Could it be from the US Spy satellite that was recently shot down?

  15. Michelle

    Quite frankly I think it looks more like a motocross 😉

  16. Rystefn

    Blast! Everyone already took all the good jokes. I hate being late to the party.

  17. Jon H

    “I’m not an expert, but if it came from space, wouldn’t it have dome some damage to the ground around it? Burn marks, crater, impact point….?”

    Only if that’s where it landed. If it hit somewhere else and bounced or skipped to its current location, then there probably wouldn’t be any ground damage right there.

  18. Robin Titus

    My vote is for composite overwrap pressure vessel (COPV). If it is a fuel tank it is most likely not steel but titanium. It could be difficult for the layman to distinguish between the two. The copper axle could be part of the propellant management device (PMD). Although, again, if it is a fuel tank the PMD is most likely not copper.

  19. Libraryguy

    Dunno what it is…but it is about to quote something…

  20. What really surprises me is that I’m from Brazil, in Brazil, and only heard of it through this blog. wtf, me. Gotta turn on the tv sometimes…

  21. Michael Lonergan


    “I hate being late to the party.”

    You mean you actually have a life…? 😉

  22. Todd W.


    “Giant ball of duct tape wound on a wooden dowel.”

    Finally proof of what us theatre techies have been saying all along: Duct Tape is like the force. It’s light on one side, dark on the other and, as this photo shows, it binds the galaxy together.

    …Though this kinda bodes poorly for the galaxy if balls of the stuff are just droppin’ down to Earth.

  23. Don’t you folks recognize Sputnik when you see it? I guess it finally came down…

  24. Todd W.

    @Michael Lonergan

    “Yeah, motorbike, that has possibly been cruising around on the Moon given how dirty it is.”

    Judging by the color of the dirt, though, I would have to say that Mars is more likely. The MRO wasn’t seeing Spirit, it was seeing someone riding that bike around the face of Mars.

  25. allkom

    It has threads on both ends of the axle , so supposedly it is a part of a bigger structure . I agree it could be a radar deflector for a power line , thought usualy they are orange painted and not tape wrapped . whathever it is , it´s quite human , and is not making such a big fuss here in Brazil.

  26. Dr. Omni

    The original Brazilian article mentioned is tabloid-ish, making alien jokes and the such. However, here is a serious news article about the object, and it has another picture: http://g1.globo.com/Noticias/Brasil/0,,MUL361875-5598,00.html . According to that, the thing fell close (about 150 meters) to a house, and it was warm when they reached it. Also, the object is kind of damaged on the underside due to the impact, it seems. Brazil’s National Comission on Nuclear Energy is going to the site investigate if there is radiactivity, which is the main concern of the locals. (There was a nuclear accident with cesium in that region many years ago and so people there are kind of sensitive with this subject.)

  27. allkom

    on the other hand , it could be pz’s asteroid just quiting the competition 😉 .

  28. Carey

    Oops. Our bad.

    -the people of Haleakala

  29. Dutch

    That’s one of those whatchamacallits. They are easy to spot. Do you see on the one end it has a thingamabob that easily attaches to a dohickey. Also, the clincher for me is that the whole thing is wrapped in one of those gismo’s

  30. fontinalis

    Damn! I’ve been looking for that thing.

    Now….how to get to Brazil…..

  31. flynjack

    I’d guess a satellite fuel tank. With all the debris in orbit these days I’d expect this to happen even more often than reported, just goes to show there is still lots of open land, and of course lots of ocean too.

  32. Mark Martin

    If it’s a chunk of spacecraft, then surely it’d be within the landing ellipse of one with a known re-entry time. It should be easily traceable.

  33. Andre

    Looks like a fuel tank from a satellite. Hydrazin, maybe?

    Anyway, this is not the first one to fall here in Brazil. A couple years ago a similar episode happened, when locals were worried about the “ET egg” that had fallen from the sky!

    There are some pictures of the “ET egg” here. It is in Portuguese, sorry.

  34. Gary F

    Looks like a space wasp nest to me.

  35. decius

    Why do you ask us, when you can avail yourself of Hoagland’s enlightened cooperation to solve these mysteries? Just call your pal at Coast to Coast, he will be glad to bring you guys together, even on air.

  36. Michael Lonergan

    Of course! It’s a Christmas ornament from Bigfoot’s Christmas Tree!

  37. John Bono

    To me, it looks like a piece of landing gear with the rubber tire shredded off.

  38. dave

    If it’s covered in plastic, it can’t have been moving very fast.

  39. Trekkie

    To me it looks like Sauroman’s lost seer stone from lord of the rings return of the king when pippin picked it up out of the water after Sauroman died.

  40. @allkom
    made my day, thanks :)

  41. It’s interesting how they’re worried if it is radioactive. Even the farmers mentioned radioactivity explicitly.

    If it didn’t fall in Goiás, it wouldn’t even occur to them the possibility. All of this is because of that terrible radioactive disaster some decades ago in Goiania.

    Curious how the term and the fear stuck.

  42. Larry

    Well lets see what CCR has to say about it:

    Oh, it came out of the sky, landed just a little south of moline.
    Jody fell out of his tractor, couldnt blieve what he seen.
    Laid on the ground and shook, fearin for his life.
    Then he ran all the way to town screamin it came out of the sky.

    Well, a crowd gathered round and a scientist said it was marsh gas.
    Spiro came and made a speech about raising the mars tax.
    The vatican said, woe, the lord has come.
    Hollywood rushed out an epic film.
    And ronnie the popular said it was a communist plot.

    Oh, the newspapers came and made jody a national hero.
    Walter and eric said theyd put him on a network t.v. show.
    The white house said, put the thing in the blue room.
    The vatican said, no, it belongs to rome.
    And jody said, its mine and you can have it for seventeen million.

    Good enuf for me.

  43. Brian

    Why isn’t anyone checking their bible for the answers?

  44. Hutch

    It looks like a COPV to me also. The second photo really shows how the composite overwrap got charred upon reentry. The aft kick ring on the space shuttle SRB’s look charred and frayed like that after they come back too.

  45. pcarini

    @Lucas: “Curious how the term and the fear stuck.

    Given the half-life of Cs, the radioactivity has stuck also..

    I’d have to agree w/ Andre, it looks remarkably like the “ET egg” in the article he linked. Interesting that both of these pieces fell on Brazil though if I’m interpreting the Portuguese article correctly, they fell something like 700 km apart.

  46. Todd W.


    “Why isn’t anyone checking their bible for the answers?”

    Well, it doesn’t look like fire and brimstone. I doubt that it’s manna. Too big to be a sling stone (and too metal). Doesn’t look like a horseman. Not a locust with the face of a man….

    I’m not coming up with anything. Can anyone else find something?

  47. ol

    I for one welcome our Alien Duct Tape Doohickey overlords

  48. Todd W.

    Say, has anyone checked the shuttle recently to make sure all its parts are still where they should be?

  49. Ibeechu

    “Looks like a motorcycle of some kind.”

    That’s the best quote I’ve ever read today. You made my day 😛

  50. tim

    I’ll add my vote to the composite-overwrapped pressure vessel theory. Especially after seeing the close-up picture at http://g1.globo.com/Noticias/Brasil/0,,MUL361875-5598,00.html.

  51. Anthony

    According to http://www.reentrynews.com/recovered.html, the 2005 item was probably debris from a Delta II booster. There any recent satellite launches this could come from?

  52. Anthony

    According to http://www.reentrynews.com/recovered.html, the 2004 item was probably debris from a Delta II booster. There any recent satellite launches this could come from?

  53. Patrick Hall

    Just for fun I translated the article linked above by Dr. Omni:

    24/03/2008 – 18h55 – Last update at 24/03/2008 – 18h57

    Unidentified object intrigues inhabitants of Goais

    G1, Sao Paulo, with additional information from TV Anhanguera

    A one-meter wide sphere fell on a farm in Montividiu, Goais, this weekend. The object was not heavy and was compressed on impact. Local inhabitants do not know when the sphere appeared. INPE, the National Space Research Foundation, believes that the object is space junk.

    Farmer Sebastiao Marques da Costa said that the unidentified object was hot when it was found. The sphere fell approximately 150 meters from a house and attracted many curious onlookers. While some were afraid, others dared to touch it, and also hazarded guesses as to the origen of the unknown object.

    Health services technicians from Goias arrived at the farm on Tuesday (24th). They left the object where it was, but they recommended that those who live there not touch it. The National Nuclear Energy Commission (Cnem) was informed and will be sending investigators to analyze whether the object is radioactive.

    Take it with a grain of salt, I’m not a professional translator. :)

  54. has

    GLaDOS wants her core chip back.

  55. It’s clearly a beer ball with duct tape wrapped around it.

  56. has

    Also, the bike is a lie.

  57. It certainly looks like the Colour From Out of Space.

  58. Definitely a consumables tank of some nature. My first guess (before reading the other entries about COPV) is that it might be titanium, since it’s about that color. OTOH, titanium gets all rainbow-ey when it gets hot. The “axle” thought the middle tells me it is probably part of a bi-propellant system where the pipe in the middle carries the other half of the propellant.

    If it is from a booster, then it is part of a control system since there wouldn’t be enough in there to do any serious propulsion. It could also be an RCS tank from an on-orbit control system. Maybe part of USA-193 (or whatever the number was)?

    These are usually buried pretty deep in the vehicle, so any thermal scorching/melting from reentry would be over by the time it broke free. Being empty and fairly large, it would have a pretty small terminal velocity, thus wouldn’t leave a crater.

    – Jack

  59. potterbro

    I’m going with COPV as well… found this image on google image search and it looks identical except for the color

  60. potterbro
  61. I also vote for COPV.

    Are there any known satellites or rocket stages which have a predicted reentry that corospondes to this is the next question. It could even be part of the satellite the US blew up last month as they stated it was in an orbit where most of the debris would burn up and deorbit within a short time. I would doubt it was that though.

  62. ioresult

    Good one, has! Hahaha!

  63. Dr. Omni

    Update: the object is not radioactive and it was transported to the nearby facilities of the Comission for Nuclear Energy. People from the local university and army were contacted to try to identify the object. Source: http://noticias.terra.com.br/ciencia/interna/0,,OI2706932-EI8146,00.html

    (I wonder why no one from the Brazilian space agency or from the National Institute for Space Sciences was contacted yet.)

  64. MandyDax

    It definitely does look like a charred version of the COPD that potterbro linked to, and it’s the right size. It would make sense that if it’s an empty container that its low mass:surface area would slow it down very quickly and prevent it from completely being burned up on reentry.

    Woo: “I see Jesus wearing a crown of thorns on the side of it. It’s clearly a message from God.”



  66. MandyDax

    Oh, also, it seems to be out of Torchwood’s reach, but UNIT’s gonna have a hell of a cleanup job. They’ll probably just say it’s a COPV (d’oh! I mistyped in my other response X( ).

  67. Here’s a picture of a Space Shuttle’s helium Kevlar COPV, very similar to the thing that fell:

  68. Patrick Hall

    @Dr. Omni:

    Is the National Institute for Space Sciences you mention distinct from the INPE (Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais) mentioned in the article above? The latter opined that the thing was space junk; but afaict they didn’t send anyone to the scene…

  69. Hometown Dave

    Just when I thought no one could top the motorcycle remarks, (made me laugh btw) someone references Happy Fun Ball and puts me on the floor!!!!!!

  70. Michael Lonergan

    It is obviously the Internal Combustion Pump of the Flying Spaghetti Monsters Beer Volcano. Has anyone seen any strippers in the area? That would nail it…

  71. Utakata

    I dunno…

    …but if a top comes off and some appendage comes out and starts shooting police, military and a priest…we’ll know we are in big doo-doo.

  72. Michael Lonergan

    If it is a Noodly Appendage, that starts shooting, we’ll know we’ve been duped by his Noodliness.

  73. IRONMANAustralia

    @Michael Lonergran

    I tracked down that episode of ‘Project UFO’, and something about it looks strangely familiar …


    Actually, it turns out my memory is quite accurate – considering the original air-date indicates I was at least six and a half years old. You can see the crossbeam I described connected to the spherical craft in the picture going out of frame to the right. It could be made of copper – which would confirm that this debris in Brazil is horse-head alien technology, (because as Kent Hovind always says, a common design indicates a common designer).

    Hey … wait a minute …

    The horse-headed aliens are REAL!!! Arrrrrghhhh!!!

    *Hides under computer desk sucking thumb*

  74. Hmm. Did they check it to see if it had any hydrazine in it? According to Hal, hydrazine smells kinda like ammonia but if you can smell it it means you’re probably already dead.

    Did any dead guys mention a smell like ammonia?

  75. Michael Lonergan

    BA said:

    “Update: We seem to have a winner. It looks very much like a fuel tank, called a composite overwrap pressure vessel. Robin Titus in the comments was the first to specify, for the record. He wins nothing. As a personal friend of mine, though, he has already won.”

    Well, yeah, we could have told you that right off the bat, but you wouldn’t have had half the fun you have had reading 74 comments describing everything but a fuel tank, now would you?

    Where did you find that picture? I remember that exact episode, and I would have been in my teens. The episode did still scare me though. But looking at that picture, which I half expected would still freak me out, I am picking myself up off the floor from laughing!

    Incidentally, weren’t these stories supposed to be based on Project Blue Book’s unsolved cases? In other words they are true stories.

    So, explain that one BA!?

  76. I join the chorus: definitely a fuel tank from a rocket booster.

    It would help to have an exact date and time of when it came down, to see whether it matches any recent decayers. Apart from small bits of USA 193 debris, there was an expected decay of an Atlas 5 Centaur rocket booster last weekend. As it was from a military launch in 2007, the launch of the First Wideband Global SATCOM, no orbital elements are available though, but I guess it is a good candidate.

  77. BTW, I wonder whether the Pentagon deployed it’s rapid response team to the crash site, given he obvious care they expressed for civilian’s health and safety in the context of USA 193’s fuel tank… 😉

    The Centaur rocket booster I talked about above is 2007-046B by the way.

  78. @Alex Whiteside: bahahahahaha

    It totally makes sense that there would be no crater, but for several of the above stated reasons, being ‘light’ due to its emptiness it would have had a slow fall to the earth and would not have made a crater, but at the same time, its relatively spherical shapes and lack of internal mass would also virtually guarantee that it would bounce and roll to its final location.

    That being said, I agree with the Super Happy Fun Ball hypothesis.

  79. I think *I* was actually the first to say “fuel tank”, but I didn’t know the magic incantation COPV, so I don’t get the wonderful null-set prize. C’est la vie.

  80. To Solve from Brazil

    DEAR ALL: Berry and Marco Langbroek all the time were right – it is confirmed to be an Atlas 5 tank fuel as before mentioned.

  81. Charles

    I need help for this topic. Does anyone have any idea and can help me: a weather balloon launched by NASA already fallen in Brazil. In what year this happened? In which city it fell? How many people died? how many were injured? and from which country the balloon was launched?



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