April 24, 2024

The mysterious cylinder on a Western Australian beach could be space junk, authorities say


Hong Kong
CNN

Australian police are on the lookout for a mystery cylinder that landed on the country’s west coast as officials say the object of local interest, and speculation, is space junk.

The Australian Space Agency said on Monday that it is observing the copper-colored cylinder that was recently spotted on a beach at Green Head, a coastal town 250 kilometers (155 miles) north of Perth, the capital of Western Australia.

“The object may be from a foreign space launch vehicle and we are in contact with global counterparts who may be able to provide more information,” the agency tweeted.

The bulky cylinder, which represents the person, appears to have damage at one end and is covered in gorse, suggesting that it spent a lot of time at sea before being washed up.

The space agency urged people not to handle and move the object due to its unknown origin and to report any additional discoveries of suspected debris.

The Western Australian Police Force said in a separate statement that they will treat the object as “hazardous until its origin can be established.”

“People in the area should maintain a safe distance,” they said, adding that a joint investigation is underway with other government agencies to determine its origin and nature.

“The investigation is ongoing, and until more information is available, we ask everyone to refrain from jumping to conclusions,” police said.

The discovery of the object has sparked feverish speculation among locals – and online – as to its origin with guesses ranging from part of a plane to part of a spacecraft.

But police have said the item did not appear to have come from a commercial aircraft.

Alice Gorman, a space archaeologist from Flinders University in Adelaide, said the cylinder was likely the third stage of a polar satellite launch vehicle previously launched by India.

“It’s identical in size and material,” Gorman told CNN, comparing it to launch vehicles used by India since 2010.

Space rockets are multistage, meaning they are made up of different fuel-carrying compartments, each of which is dumped in sequential order when the propellant runs out, with much of the debris falling back to Earth.

Gorman added that the color and shape of the largely intact cylinder suggests that it did not reach outer space before disintegrating, which prevented it from re-igniting the atmosphere. It could have landed in the ocean about five or 10 years ago until a deep-sea storm pushed it to shore, she said.

Gorman said the cylinder runs on solid fuel, which only releases toxic substances under high temperatures. But she advised local residents not to be careful.

“As a general rule, you don’t touch space junk unless you have to,” she said.

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