UPDATE: The Australian Space Agency has announced the mysterious object is a large piece of space debris from an Indian launch. The cylinder is from a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), a medium-lift launch vehicle operated by the Indian Space Research Organisation.
ORIGINAL STORY: Everyone loves a good mystery, so when a huge, unidentified metal object washed up on a Western Australian beach, locals and internet sleuths alike couldn’t contain their curiosity.
Residents near Green Head beach reported the massive copper-coloured cylinder to police on Sunday. The object, which is still on the beach, was discovered visibly damaged and appears to be partially covered by barnacles.
According to the BBC, the object is roughly 2.5 metres wide and over 2.5 metres long.
Western Australian police initially asked locals to keep their distance from the object in case it was hazardous. On Monday evening, authorities said a chemical analysis of the cylinder “determined the object is safe and there is no current risk to the community.”
The investigation into the cylinder’s origin is ongoing, though police have said the object is likely not from a commercial aircraft.
The Australian Space Agency said the object “could be from a foreign space launch vehicle,” as many eagle-eyed internet sleuths had already hypothesized.
Aviation expert Geoffrey Thomas told the BBC the cylinder is possibly a detached portion of an Indian space rocket launched in the last 12 months. Thomas suggested the object may be a fuel tank. Many on social media have made the same suggestion, proposing the cylinder is likely space junk from India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), which successfully launched in April.
If the object is indeed a fuel tank, Alice Gorman, a leading space archaeologist, told The Guardian the cylinder would have once held toxic materials used in rocket fuel. She hypothesized the cylinder is from some point within the last decade and would be now filled with dirt and sand. Still, she encouraged beachgoers to keep their distance.
Some residents were seen crowding the object and building sandcastles around it when it was first discovered on Sunday, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported.
The state broadcaster interviewed a local resident who said another woman first spotted the cylinder at the water’s edge. The unidentified woman reportedly pulled the object from the water using a vehicle with four-wheel drive.
Officials have urged people “to refrain from drawing conclusions” about the object while state and federal authorities continue to gather information.
Western Australian police have since established a guard rotation to protect the cylinder and keep curious onlookers at bay while their investigation continues. Authorities said the cylinder would be removed from the beach once it is identified.
If the object is space debris, the UN’s Outer Space Treaty would require the cylinder to be returned to its country of origin.