Falling Object That Crashed Into Florida Home May Be Debris From the International Space Station

Nobody was hurt by the mysterious, two-pound object, but experts speculate it may be a piece of batteries ejected from the station in 2021

An aerial view of the International Space Station, with Earth visible below
A picture of the International Space Station captured by the Space Shuttle Discovery in 2007. Last month, a two-ton pallet of batteries released by the space station in 2021 re-entered Earth's atmosphere. It was expected to mostly burn up upon re-entry, but a two-pound piece of debris that struck a Florida home may have come from the batteries. NASA

A cylindrical object weighing about two pounds tore through the roof of Alejandro Otero’s home in Naples, Florida, last month. Otero was on vacation when his son, who was in the house when the debris fell, gave him a call, WINK News’ Annalise Iraola reported in March.

“Something ripped through the house and then made a big hole on the floor and on the ceiling,” Otero told the publication. “It was a tremendous sound. It almost hit my son. He was two rooms over and heard it all.”

Now, experts speculate the falling object might have come from the International Space Station (ISS)—the crash occurred shortly after some batteries ejected from the station in 2021 re-entered Earth’s atmosphere, per Ars Technica’s Stephen Clark.

The total mass of the batteries was originally 2.6 metric tons, but most of it was expected to burn up upon re-entry, according to the European Space Agency (ESA).

“So you had a two-ton thing that re-entered the atmosphere, and this is some small fragment of it that survived and went through this poor guy’s house,” Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Center for Astrophysics, Harvard & Smithsonian, who studies atmospheric re-entries, theorizes to Gizmodo’s Passant Rabie.

NASA has retrieved the object and is planning to analyze it to determine its origin, as Joshua Finch, a NASA spokesperson, tells Live Science’s Ben Turner.

In 2018, nine used batteries on the ISS got stranded at the station instead of being shipped back to Earth on a supply ship due to a series of delays, per Ars Technica. On March 11, 2021, the ISS released the batteries, attached to a cargo pallet, into space.

The pallet “is safely moving away from the station and will orbit Earth between two to four years before burning up harmlessly in the atmosphere,” NASA said in a 2021 statement. As the pallet approached Earth last month however, the ESA said in a statement that some parts of the debris could reach the ground—though the likelihood of someone getting hit was “very low.”

The ESA estimated that the batteries would reach Earth between 1:30 p.m. and 3:08 p.m. Eastern time on March 8. Changing levels of atmospheric drag, among other factors, made it difficult to predict where the re-entry would occur. The crash at Otero’s home occurred at 2:34 p.m. Eastern time on March 8, per Ars Technica.

Such instances of falling debris are far from uncommon—a large object from space makes an uncontrolled re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere around once a week, with much of the object burning up. But the pallet with nine batteries was the most massive object to ever be released from the ISS. And on this occasion, a fragment may have survived and struck Otero’s home.

“I was shaking. I was completely in disbelief. What are the chances of something landing on my house with such force to cause so much damage,” Otero told WINK News. “I’m super grateful that nobody got hurt.”

“NASA was rolling the dice … and they made an unlucky throw,” McDowell tells Gizmodo of the batteries’ release.

Around 28,000 objects launched to space remain in orbit around Earth, per the ESA. The Ivory Coast, Borneo and the Indian Ocean have been hit by falling debris from China’s Long March 5B boosters, and SpaceX rockets have rained material on farms in Washington state and Australia, per Live Science.

Otero could make a claim against the federal government for the cost of the damage if the object is NASA’s, Michelle Hanlon, an aviation and space law expert at the University of Mississippi, tells Ars Technica. Even if the object was launched by another country, “that country would be absolutely liable to the homeowner for the damage caused,” Hanlon says to the publication.

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