Residents of Green Head, Australia were thrown into excitement after a large metal cylinder washed up on the beach in the Western Australian town. While some might have believed that it’s a piece of alien spacecraft, it’s likely that it came from spacecraft created by humans.
The large cylinder is damaged on one end and is covered in barnacles, suggesting that it spent a long time in the waves before washing ashore. The jury is still out on where exactly it came from, but the Australian Space Agency thinks it might be from another country’s space program.
“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 organization tweeted.
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
Andrea Boyd, an engineer at the European Space Agency, told ABC that experts believe the item came off an Indian rocket launching a satellite into space.
“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 said. “[India] has been using them since the ’90s and they’ve launched more than 50 missions.”
“It takes a lot of effort to get up to orbit, so the first and second and third stage [engines] usually fall off and end up in the Indian Ocean, so it’s probably come from that with the currents and washed up on the beach,” she explained.
India launched its latest lunar exploration mission on July 14, marking the Indian Space Research Organization’s first mission of 2023. Because of the decayed state of the object found in Western Australia, Boyd doesn’t think it was connected to the recent launch. “Based on the amount of barnacles, it’s probably not the one from this year,” she said, adding that it could be as many as 20 years old.
The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs has a special outer space treaty requiring everyone who has signed to be responsible for everything they launch into space up until the very end. This includes cleanup once pieces have fallen back to Earth. Boyd said the Australian Space Agency is speaking with its Indian counterpart for proper disposal of the newly discovered piece of spacecraft.
When pieces of NASA‘s Skylab fell near a Western Australian town in 1979, the American space agency received a fine from the local government that they ignored. “I don’t think NASA took it that seriously because they didn’t pay it,” Boyd said, noting that a radio station paid the fine on NASA’s behalf.
Add “space junk” to the list of unexpected metal objects to wash up on a beach.