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‘It popped out and landed on the ground with a loud bang’: Photographer reveals what happened to Utah monolith

Four regular-sized men, neither little nor green, shattered hopes that the mysterious Utah monolith was a harbinger of alien enlightenment.

"This is why you don't leave trash in the desert," said one in a distinctly non-extraterrestrial dialect as the group made quick work of removing the monolith.

Within eight minutes the four had pushed over the monument with a "loud bang", broke it apart and carried away the pieces in a wheelbarrow as photographer Ross Bernards and two friends looked on.

"One of them looked back at us all and said 'Leave no trace'," Mr Bernards said in an Instagram post.

By 8:48 pm on Friday night, the mystery that had captivated the world for the past two weeks had disappeared. Whether it reappeared in Romania, was stored in a John McCracken gallery closet or returned to Mars, its current location remains unsolved.

One of the friend group watching its removal, Michael James Newlands, took grainy photos showing the four men standing over the fallen structure with headlamps illuminating its shiny surface in the desert darkness.

The images expose the hollow inside of the sculpture, which looks like it's made of Earthbound materials like plywood.

"They just came in there to execute and they were like, ‘This is our mission’," Mr Newlands told The New York Times.

Mr Newlands and Mr Bernards had spent 1 hour and 40 minutes photographing the monolith in the moonlight on Friday before the men arrived at about 8.40 pm.

Mr Bernards said they didn't stop them because they agreed removing it was the right thing to do, as the landscape was being permanently altered by tourists trying to reach it.

"One of them said 'You better have got your pictures', he then gave it a big push, and it went over," Mr Bernards said.

With that, the mystery that began on 18 November was gone. The saga, however, is unlikely to be forgotten.

The San Juan County Sherrif's Office originally declined to investigate the disappearance while appealing to the public for information on any of the suspects in its 'wanted' poster on Facebook - including Baby Yoda, ET the Extra-Terrestrial, and a collection of those generic little green men-style aliens.

It reversed that decision with the federal Bureau of Land Management announcing a joint investigation, as it was an illegally installed structure.

"We may not know if an extraterrestrial or earthling installed the 'monolith' structure, but we can confirm that it has been taken by an unknown party or parties," the agency said in a tweet.

 While the monolith is gone, its legend lives on.

Marketing companies are already jumping on the mono-train with branding stunts that will ensure no good viral moment goes unmonetized. Southwest Airlines has tweeted out an image of the monolith looking like its airline gate  

“Sorry y’all, we needed it back,” the airline wrote in its tweet.

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