The Sherif's Office in Moffat County, Colorado was in for a shock on March 22, 2011 when their Lost and Found office acquired a mysterious new find. It was a metal sphere, 30 inches in diameter, with Cyrillic markings.

The Zenit-3 pressurization system ended up in Moffat County, Colorado. Image credit: NASA


Russia tested a new launch vehicle in January 2011, a Zenit-3 SLBF that abandoned two stages in orbit. One of the stages was in a low parking orbit, quickly falling back to Earth. It re-entered about 80 kilometers above Los Angeles, California on March 19th, 2011. The debris trajectory carried it northeast to Utah and Colorado.

Days later, the Sheriff's office in Moffat County reported finding a metal sphere with Cyrillic markings. Between the timing, location, and lettering, NASA quickly associated the found object with the Zenit re-entry, identifying what appears to be part of the pressurization system.

Space junk is a growing planet in near-Earth orbit. This isn't the first chunk of a rocket found somewhere unexpected, although it is the only one that made it to a Lost & Found.


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