The monolith’s mysterious appearance amid the rocky desert sparked excitement among the hominids who circled it, intrigued and perplexed.

But unlike the alien structure made famous by the epic film adaptation of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” the metal monolith discovered Wednesday by public safety workers in southeastern Utah is quite real. The workers were scouring the red-rock region by helicopter for bighorn sheep when a crew member spotted the object, the pilot, Bret Hutchings, told KSL-TV.

“He’s like: ‘There’s this thing! There’s this thing back there! We got to go look at it!’” Hutchings said.

Joking that they were intrepid explorers investigating an alien life form, the crew members determined that the monolith was 10 to 12 feet tall and planted firmly in the ground. It seemed to them like more of an artistic expression than part of a scientific experiment.

But mostly, it looked like something out of a science-fiction novel.

“We were kind of joking around that if one of us just suddenly disappears, I guess the rest of us make a run for it,” Hutchings told KSL, chuckling.

It was not clear who installed the monolith, which Hutchings designated the strangest discovery he’s made in years of flying over the Utah desert. The state Department of Public Safety will not disclose its exact location, warning that people who try to visit it might end up stranded amid the rocky terrain.

Officials noted that installing unauthorized structures on federally managed public lands is illegal, “no matter what planet you’re from.” The Bureau of Land Management is deciding whether to investigate further.

For now, the monolith is delighting science-fiction fans all over the Internet, who couldn’t help but note the uncanny resemblance to the mysterious structure in “2001” that came from aliens and sped up human evolution.

Some people also posited that the discovery of a random monolith in the wilderness was a fitting end to the wild ride of the past year.

“2001: A Space Odyssey in #2020,” one Twitter user wrote. “What a long strange year it’s been.”

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