A mysterious cylindrical object found on a remote Australian beach this month is a piece of debris from an Indian rocket, Australia’s space agency announced on Monday.
This means that it is not — as some people had speculated online — a piece of a Malaysia Airlines plane that disappeared over the Indian Ocean in 2014, or a U.F.O.
“We have concluded the object located on a beach near Jurien Bay in Western Australia is most likely debris from an expended third-stage of a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle,” the Australian Space Agency said on social media.
The object is in storage, the agency said, noting that it was working with the Indian Space Research Organization to decide what to do next. A 1968 United Nations agreement requires countries to return recovered space debris to the country that owned it.
A civilian had reported the object to the police this month after it was found near Green Head, a coastal town of fewer than 300 people about 155 miles north of Perth that is known for its fishing and sea lions. The discovery came days after India successfully launched a rocket from its east coast, bound for the moon.
There is a lot of space junk floating around. The U.S. Department of Defense tracks more than 27,000 pieces of orbital debris, according to NASA. “Much more debris — too small to be tracked, but large enough to threaten human spaceflight and robotic missions — exists in the near-Earth space environment,” NASA’s website explains. In 2021, NASA said that there were about 23,000 pieces of debris larger than a softball orbiting the Earth.
It’s not the first piece of space junk to be found around the world. Last year, a sheep farmer in Australia found a pointy black piece of debris that was thought to have been from a SpaceX spacecraft. Earlier this year, investigators examined a giant metal ball that was found on a beach in Japan that turned out to be a buoy.