Police said Tuesday that a mysterious object that washed up on Australia’s western coast, prompting a flurry of local excitement and debate about its origin, is most likely space trash.
The copper-colored cylinder had drawn in interested local residents anxious to catch a glimpse of the unexplained object since it was discovered on a beach at Green Head, a seaside village 250 kilometers (155 miles) north of Perth. Online speculation also arose, with people sharing a slew of speculations about where it came from.
The Western Australian Police Force said in a statement on Tuesday that the item is thought to be “space debris,” reflecting similar remarks from the country’s space agency, which was working on the same theory.
Police were initially cautious, erecting a barrier around the device and warning residents to stay away. However, in a fresh statement on Tuesday, police stated that an investigation by the Department of Fire and Emergency Services and the Chemistry Centre of Western Australia revealed that the object was safe and posed no immediate risk to the community.
While trying to finalize their results, police said they were consulting with relevant organizations on how to safely remove and store the object. However, space junk appears to be the most plausible explanation.
“The object could be from a foreign space launch vehicle and we are liaising with global counterparts who may be able to provide more information,” the Australian Space Agency tweeted on Monday.
We are currently making enquiries related to this object located on a beach near Jurien Bay in Western Australia.
The object could be from a foreign space launch vehicle and we are liaising with global counterparts who may be able to provide more information.
[More in comments] pic.twitter.com/41cRuhwzZk
— Australian Space Agency (@AusSpaceAgency) July 17, 2023
The enormous cylinder, which is higher than a human, looks to have been dented at one end and is coated in barnacles, indicating that it spent a significant length of time at sea before washing up.
Because of the uncertain origin of the object, the space agency asked people to avoid handling and moving it, and to report any subsequent discoveries of suspected debris. Police had stated that the object did not appear to be from a commercial aircraft and that they would secure it until it was removed.
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According to Alice Gorman, a space archaeologist at Flinders University in Adelaide, the cylinder is most likely the third phase of an Indian polar satellite launch vehicle.
“It is identical in dimension and materials,” Gorman told CNN, comparing it with launch vehicles used by India since 2010. Multi-stage space rockets are built up of many compartments storing fuel, each of which is dumped in a sequential order until the propellant runs out, with much of the debris falling back to Earth.
Gorman also stated that the cylinder’s mostly intact color and shape indicate that it did not reach outer space before separating, saving it from a violent burn with the atmosphere on re-entry. She believes it may have landed in the water five to ten years ago before being forced to the coast by a recent deep sea storm.
The cylinder runs on solid fuel, which only emits harmful compounds at high temperatures. She did, however, encourage residents to be cautious. “Just as general rule, you don’t touch space junk unless you need to,” she said.