Mysterious object found on Australian beach could be space junk

Space agency says it is in contact with global counterparts to determine whether object could be from foreign space launch.

Acylindrical object on beach in Green Head, Australia
The cylindrical object was found on July 16, 2023, at Green Head, Western Australia [Video screengrab/Channel 9 via AP Photo]

The Australian Space Agency has launched an investigation into whether a mysterious cylindrical object that washed up on a remote western beach is space junk from a foreign rocket.

The barnacle-encrusted device, which is about the size of a small car, was found on Sunday at Green Head, a town about 250km (155 miles) north of Perth, the capital of Western Australia. Curious locals gathered to pose for photos before police arrived and cordoned off the area.

The agency said on Monday on Twitter that it was in contact with other space agencies to identify the object, which appears to be partly made of a woven material.

“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,” it said.

European Space Agency engineer Andrea Boyd said her colleagues believe the item that washed up from the Indian Ocean fell from an Indian rocket while launching a satellite.

“We’re pretty sure, based on the shape and the size, it is an upper-stage engine from an Indian rocket that’s used for a lot of different missions,” she told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

There was no immediate comment by the  Indian Space Research Organization.

Whoever launched the object into space would be responsible for its disposal.

“There is a United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, and they have an Outer Space Treaty that everyone has signed, saying that whoever launches something into space is responsible for it right until the very end,” Boyd said.

Australian National University astrophysicist and cosmologist Brad Tucker was quoted as saying by The Associated Press news agency that the object “definitely does look space chunky”.

Western Australia Police said in a statement that a government chemical analysis had determined the object was safe and “there is no current risk to the community.”

Authorities had earlier treated the device as hazardous and urged the public to stay away.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies