Imagine for a second that you’re wandering through a remote, barren desert and suddenly find a camera sitting on the sandy floor. Unable to resist your own curiosity, you take the camera home, charge it up and flick through its images. But instead of selfies or group family photos, you saw images from space. Specifically, you see images of Earth from space. They looked like this:
You’d probably be at least a little freaked out if you found those on a random camera in the middle of a desert, right?
Well that’s exactly what happened to a woman hiking in Arizona recently. The camera she found was actually outfitted with a smartphone. Since she happened to be an AT&T employee, the hiker decided to take the phone into a store and see if she could track down the owner using its SIM card, and hopefully get an explanation for those out-of-this world photos.
According to a post on Reddit, she succeeded. But it wasn’t a martian or an astronaut who came to pick it up (unfortunately).
Here’s how it all went down: In June 2013, a group of friends decided to tether a GoPro camera to a weather balloon and send it to the edge of space (there’s no explanation for why they choose to do this). They also attached a phone to their contraption, so they could use its GPS system to continuously log the location of the balloon on its memory card. In theory, once the camera plummeted back to Earth, all they would have to do is use the GPS to go and collect it.
The problem? The balloon crash-landed in an area without any cellular service, about 80 km away from the launch site. Eventually, the group gave up looking for it and assumed it was gone for good.
Two long years later, the footage is back in their hands, thanks to said awesome AT&T employee. You can check out everything it captured right here.