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Space Debris Crashes Into Central Valley Walnut Farm

HANFORD (CBS SF) -- A mystery triggered by the weekend discovery of a strange metal object at a Central Valley walnut orchard has been solved.

Air Force officials say it is a fuel tank from Iridium satellite No. 70, a communications satellite launched in the late-1990s.

"We were a little reluctant at the beginning to issue a press release saying it had come from outer space for fear it could have been a hoax," Kings County Sheriff's Office Commander Mark Bevens told CBS affiliate KGPE.

So they called in the experts from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Barbara, who properly identified the piece of so-called space junk.

This was an unusual case for the sheriff's office.

"It was exciting. It was something different for us," Bevens told KGPE.

Fresno State Professor Frederick Ringwald who teaches astronomy called the crash landing a rare event.

"We may still see more of them. Although they'll still be rare events," he said.

Ringwald said most spacecraft landings are controlled and usually land in the Pacific Ocean.

The Vandenberg Air Force Base released a statement:

"The 30th Space Wing received a call from the King County Sheriff's Department regarding potential space debris that was found. The 30th Space Wing collaborated with the Combined Space Operations Center and the 18th Space Control Squadron to identify a possible origin for the object and linked the Sheriff's department with Iridium."

The 18th Space Control Squadron predicts when and where man-made objects will reenter the Earth's atmosphere and provides reentry predictions via

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