Do you remember news of a strange steel sphere?
November 5, 2007 8:13 PM   Subscribe

Does anyone remember news of an anomalous event that occurred in the early 1970's, namely a family finding a large steel sphere in their backyard? I remember encountering this news story many years ago, probably in Fate or Argosy magazine, and I suspect I may have read about it again in on of those Reader's Digest "Mystery" compilation volumes.

The news story, as I remember it, was that one day a family found a large (perhaps 2 feet in diameter) steel sphere in their back yard. I think it occurred in one of the Southern states, perhaps Florida. It may have been made of stainless steel, and was thought much too big to be a ball bearing.

I recall this story now, in light of a comment in today's Giant Sphere post about a spherical "pig" being used to clean out the inside of a pipe system; I recall this was suggested as a prosaic explanation for the nature of the large steel sphere.
posted by Tube to Technology (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
bit of skylab?
posted by exlotuseater at 8:22 PM on November 5, 2007

Found it

Took me a few.. Thought I lost my GoFu for a minute there.
posted by B(oYo)BIES at 8:29 PM on November 5, 2007 [2 favorites]

The gentleman that posts at the bottom of my link seems to be pretty sure what it is.

SC Wrote:
Hello, Roger.
I just came across your metal orb on the internet. I know what it is. First, take note of the fact that a second interior sphere exists within, and that it is space roughly 1/2 inch from the outer walls. That is clue #1.
Second, the welded metal cap on the outside is clue #2.
The circular structures between the inner and outer tanks is clue #3.

The inner sphere was spaced from the outer sphere for insulation. The welded cap is where a hard vacuum was pulled with a vacuum pump and the cap welded on to prevent leakage. This forms a cryogenic storage device known as a Dewer flask. The sphere is a cryogenic storage tank that uses a vacuum insulated jacket to prevent the warming of the material stored inside. The circular structures are spacers that keep the inner tank from hitting the outer tank.

Now, the clamp with the Phillips screw is a grounding point where this crygenic tank would have been fastened to a larger assembly. If you examine the underside of the clamp, you may be able to identify some small quantity of copper there, where the grounding cable would have been pulled free.

The handle is the mounting point for the tank, and is also referred to as a hard point.

The X-ray images show serpentine plumbing that winds about and comes back near the interior surface- this is a clue that the tank was meant to function in microgravity. Gas bubbles would tend to cluster in the center and fluids would stick to the interior. The fittings with the wire or metal rod sticking out are pretty typical air fittings meant to connect to pressure lines. One set would provide pressure into the core of the tank (see the metal cylindrical structure in the X-rays) and the others would allow material to be drawn out of the tank. Usually, the lines themselves would be stainless steel braid exterior lines; often they would also be vacuum insulated.

It is very likely that this is titanium. This is clearly the cryogenic storage tank for a spacecraft. It would have held either liquid helium for cooling a sensor or it would have contained liquid nitrogen for the same purpose, as well as use as a pressurized gas propellant. Many satellites will use LN2 as the material for small thrusters, as it boils into a vapor and provides reaction for movement or orientation control.

I seriously doubt if this was a fuel tank, bcause the amount of fuel or oxidizer is might have carried is small. However, it clearly has undergone reentry. It might have done so inside the body of a larger craft, which would prevent a great deal of heat damage. Being buffeted by the outer shell or debris, as well as the high pressure shock waves on reentry, is what collapsed the surface and dented it in.

So what you have is a cryogenic storage tank from a spacecraft that reentered the atmosphere- once again, most likely used for liquid nitrogen or helium.

I am a fairly regular guest with Art Bell myself and recognized the structure of the tank immediately. I have worked for years in aerospace and debris from space vehicles often contains odd or unusual shaped objects. This is due to the conditions under which they must function, and the limits on space and mass that any spacecraft designer has to work with.

posted by B(oYo)BIES at 8:35 PM on November 5, 2007


This is almost certainly not the one you're looking for, but I thought I'd include it for future searchers.
posted by MsMolly at 8:37 PM on November 5, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the leads, but my memory is that this particular sphere was quite smooth, and did not show evidence of having fallen from space, i.e. no burn marks or impact dents.

It may have been a very odd prank, or a weird disposal. I guess I'm also interested in learning if anyone is familiar with industrial "pigs" allegedly used to clean pipes with.

This event occurred in the early 1970's, or perhaps the late 1960's.
posted by Tube at 8:48 PM on November 5, 2007

Best answer: From this Northern Ontario UFO Research and Study page:

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) - The United States Navy says it is mystified by a metal sphere found by a family here.

"There's certainly something odd about it," CPO Chris Berninger said after initial attempts at identifying the 25-pound object that the Antoine Betz family says appeared outside their home here recently.

(In the picture above, 12-year-old Wayne Betz wonders if the sphere is some kind of bugging device.)

"We're going to use a more powerful machine on it and also run spectograph tests to determine what metal it's made of," Berninger said.

The family said the ball moves strangely, apparently of its own volition, and throbs as though a motor were running inside.

The sphere, slightly smaller than a bowling ball, appears to be made of stainless steel.

posted by steef at 5:36 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Yes! That's it, thank you. Much less than two feet across, I see, a testament to how memory is fallible. I remember that photo from years back, and indeed it was stainless steel and from Florida.

I wonder what ever happened to 12 year old Wayne Betz...?
posted by Tube at 5:50 AM on November 6, 2007

I grew up in the sticks and would spend my childhood summers exploring the woods behind my grand parents' house. One day, miles deep into the woods I came across an abandoned toilet. It was laying in two pieces (tank and bowl) and had been there for a long while. It was completely inexplicable. Here in the forested middle of no where, miles from any home or where any home had ever existed, was a standard house toilet, dirty, vine covered, forgotten.

To this day I can't imagine any reasonable explanation for the toilet's existence. I suppose it could have been some joke or odd ball occurrence which causes someone to heft a heavy toilet through the woods before finally depositing it randomly amid all the dead leaves.
posted by wfrgms at 7:27 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

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