A large metal object that washed up on a beach in Western Australia is believed to be space junk.
The car-sized lump appeared on a beach about 155 miles (250 kilometers) north of Perth, Western Australia, several days ago, and has received growing attention ever since.
Commenting on the unusual find, which was deemed safe by chemical experts, the Australian Space Agency tweeted: “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.”
As it was being removed from the beach for more detailed analysis on Tuesday, an engineer at the European Space Agency (ESA) suggested it was part of an Indian rocket that fell in the Indian Ocean during a mission to launch a satellite, though the amount of sea life attached to the side of the object suggests it’s been in the water for some time.
“We’re pretty sure, based on the shape and the size, it’s an upper-stage engine from an Indian rocket that’s used for a lot of different missions,” Andrea Boyd told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
“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,” Boyd added.
Speaking to 9 News Australia, Melissa de Zwart of Western Australia Space Radar said that while most space objects burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere as they descend at high speed, this clearly doesn’t always happen. Most rocket launches are designed in a way that any objects that don’t completely burn up come down in the sea, though China has faced criticism in recent years for missions involving uncontrolled descents, with some parts reportedly coming down on land.
Western Australia Premier Roger Cook suggested the recently discovered space debris could become a tourist attraction, but de Zwart noted that under international space law there’s an obligation to return pieces to the nation that owns it.
The Indian Space Research Organization has yet to make any public comment about the object, including whether it would like it back.