Australian authorities believe that a strange cylinder that washed up on a beach is likely space junk, while local media continues to wildly speculate on the object’s origins.
The Australian Space Agency wrote on Twitter that it has made “inquiries 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,” the agency speculated. “As the origin of the object is unknown, the community should avoid handling or attempting to move the object.”
The agency asks that anyone who sees other suspected space debris should report it to local authorities.
The strange object, which appears to be a large cylinder with a domed top, washed ashore on Saturday, covered in barnacles and algae. Authorities sealed off the area, prompting widespread speculation as to the object’s origin.
Social media users thought the piece might have broken off the third stage of the LVM3 rocket that launched from India last week, which residents in Australia could witness, but others argued the heavy presence of barnacles – which could take weeks to attach to a hull – would indicate a longer stay under the sea, Space.com reported.
Even if the piece is not from the most recent launch, experts argued it is highly possible that the debris fell from some Indian rocket launch, as the country launches missions from the Satish Dhawan Space Center and flies its rockets out over the Indian Ocean, which could see the debris reach Western Australia.
Geoffrey Thomas, aviation expert and Editor-in-Chief at AirlineRatings.com told Core News that the debris most likely could be a fuel tank from a rocket launched in the last 12 months, then “dropped into the Indian Ocean, somewhere in the Indian Ocean, and washed up at Green Head.”
He also dismissed speculation that the debris was a new piece of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, saying there was “no chance” the debris came from a Boeing 777.
“The fact is MH370 was lost nine-and-a-half years ago so it would show a great deal more wear and tear on the debris,” he stressed.
European Space Agency engineer Andrea Boyd told ABC News Australia experts are “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.”
Boyd noted that India has used the same model since the 90s and used the equipment in “more than 50 missions,” but acknowledged the presence of barnacles indicated it was likely “not the one from this year” and could be 20 years old.
“At the same time, when it gets thrown around the ocean it does tend to look older than it would normally,” she added.
Authorities wrapped the object in plastic and lifted it away from the beach on Tuesday where it was then taken to a locked storage facility, ABC News Australia reported.