THE mystery surrounding a giant metal monolith found in the middle of the Utah desert deepened today after it apparently vanished.
Utah's Bureau of Land Management said it had seen credible reports the object had been removed "by an unknown party".
The bizarre 12ft structure — which looks like something out of a sci-fi movie — was discovered last week by shocked wildlife officers counting sheep from a helicopter.
News of the find sent UFO spotters and conspiracy theorists into a frenzy with some even claiming the shiny tower was a secret alien antenna or homing beacon.
But a week later it has mysteriously vanished.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) said last night: "We have received credible reports that the illegally installed structure, referred to as the 'monolith,' has been removed.
"The BLM did not remove the structure, which is considered private property."
It comes after it was revealed the huge metal oddity has been in its remote hiding place for at least four years — and possibly a lot, lot longer.
Yet soon after news broke of its discovery, sleuths tracked down the co-ordinates and published them — leading people to drive many hours through the night to reach the 12ft aluminium structure.
Getting there involved a 45-minute off-road drive on a dirt track many miles from any major town at 10mph — and then a 15-minute hike up a dry stream bed.
We have received credible reports that the illegally installed structure, referred to as the 'monolith,' has been removed
But locals and environmentalists slammed gawping sightseers — claiming they would damage the pristine desert and its vegetation and leave litter.
One of them, Tyen Howell, said: “We do not need more trash, more damage, and more traffic in our remote areas.
"If you don’t live in Utah please don’t send more strangers out here tearing up our roads and lands, who don’t know how to get to where they are going."
In just a week the giant metal monolith had been scuffed and made dirty — but now it has suddenly vanished with no-one admitting to removing it.
One Reddit user said they had managed to geo-locate the obelisk by closely studying the surrounding rock formations.
They claimed the bizarre structure was first captured on Google Earth in 2016.
However, some satellite images of the mystery monolith date back to around a year earlier.
And Lieutenant Nick Street, a spokesman for the local Department of Public Safety, said it's possible the structure has been there for "40, 50 years, maybe more."
"It's the type of material that doesn't degrade with the elements. It may only be a few years old, who knows," he said.
"There's no real way based on the material it's made out of to tell how long it's actually been there."
The mystery has sparked a number of bizarre theories about how it got there — while some pointed to a more simple explanation.
Some say it closely resembles the work of artist John McCracken, who lived for a time in nearby New Mexico.
McCracken — who died in 2011 — was known for his freestanding sculptures in the shape of pyramids, cubes and shiny slabs.
Those who first spotted the oddball object last Wednesday said they were stunned by what they found.
"One of the biologists is the one who spotted it and we just happened to fly directly over the top of it," said pilot Bret Hutchings, who flew the chopper to help the wildlife officers count bighorn sheep in the area.
"He was like, 'Whoa, whoa, whoa, turn around, turn around!' And I was like, 'what,'" said Hutchings. "And he’s like, 'There's this thing back there — we've got to go look at it!'"
2001: A Space Odyssey?
When they turned around, they couldn't believe what lay before them: a shiny metal monolith seemingly sprouting out of the red earth.
"I'd say it’s probably between 10 and 12ft high," Hutchings estimated.
But the object sparked some eerie vibes — and lighthearted fun.
"We were kind of joking around that if one of us suddenly disappears, then the rest of us make a run for it," Hutchings joked.
Hutchings and his crew still have no idea how the bizarre object came to be there.
"We were, like, thinking is this something NASA stuck up there or something," Hutchings theorized.
"Are they bouncing satellites off it or something?"
They also guess that it could be a reference to a scene in a movie.
"I'm assuming it’s some new wave artist or something or, you know, somebody that was a big [2001: A Space Odyssey] fan," Hutchings said.
The exact location of the metal structure is remaining a closely guarded secret to stop hikers risking their lives travelling to the hard-to-access site.
"That's been about the strangest thing that I’ve come across out there in all my years of flying," Hutchings said.
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