A year-long mystery has been solved after residents of a coastal area took it upon themselves to collect a strange black cylinder wedged into a beach waterway.
Yambuk resident Matt King said he found the unidentified object in September 2021 while walking his dogs along the beach.
He had no idea what the “strange thing” was, but knew it was out of the ordinary in a town known for its beautiful estuary, wild beach, and tall slide.
“It’s quite strange. It’s obviously an expensive container. I don’t know if it’s stainless, wrapped in carbon fiber,” he said.
Curiosity and awareness of marine pollution forced Mr. King to contact Colleen Hughson, a marine plastic campaigner who was awarded Warrnambool Citizen of the Year for her hands-on environmental work.
Ms Hughson’s credentials for investigating strange things that wash up on beaches are well established in the region.
She runs several local beach clean-up teams that document and log endless data on the hundreds of kilos of rubbish that wash up along Victoria’s south-west coast and have found all sorts of strange objects over the years.
Ms Hughson said she reported the cylinder to local police (in case it was a bomb), notified the Australian Space Agency, shared a photograph of the object on her social media and then waited for authorities to collect the object.
Meanwhile, people started sending her articles about other space junk found around the world.
“A lady from Tasmania actually sent us an article about a really similar thing that had landed in Washington on somebody’s farm,” Hughson said.
“It was this composite pressure vessel that contains rocket fuel from the rocket ships.”
The realization that discarded space objects could re-enter earth without disintegrating sent Ms Hughson down a rabbit hole of information about spacecraft junk deliberately directed to an uninhabited zone in the ocean.
Our ocean space cemetery
Astronomer Dave Reneke said the existence of a space graveyard in the ocean was old news but not widely known.
“There’s a part of the ocean there that not many people know about called the space graveyard or the graveyard,” Reneke said.
“It’s a place where all spacecraft go to die, if you will.”
He said it was 4,000 kilometers off New Zealand’s east coast and about 3 kilometers deep.
“It’s the farthest place from any land mass on Earth,” he said.
“Since 1971, over 260 pieces of space junk have fallen in there.”
‘It came from up there’
A year after the cylinder was first discovered and reported, it was still floating in the river at Yambuk.
Mr. King and his dogs had passed it one too many times.
Knowing that the estuary would soon reopen, he mustered a group of locals and waste campaigners to take matters into their own hands and get the decomposing object out of the estuary.
Love Our Street litter campaign founder Jill Sokol traveled from Melbourne with her aviation enthusiast husband Harry to take part in a regional beach clean-up and they got far more than they bargained for.
“I actually have absolutely no idea what it could be. I’m taken with the theory that my husband Harry has suggested that it’s something that fell out of the sky,” Ms Sokol said.
“Whether it’s coming from an airplane or a spacecraft of some kind, I’m mystified.”
“It has a metal core cylinder which is not corroded, a yellowish coating which may be a kevlar coating, all followed by a wonderful bit of carbon fiber laminate,” Mr Sokol said.
“It has a serial number, which means they made more than one of them, whatever it is,” he said.
Time to duck for cover?
More stories about new discoveries of space debris were reported last week at the time the cleanup crew drove the unidentified object across Yambuk’s stubborn sand.
Hughson decided to contact the Australian Space Agency again.
“I got an answer right away,” she said.
After a few days, the agency was able to confirm with Ms Hughson that the object had definitely fallen from space, which they have confirmed with the ABC.
“It’s an overwrapped composite pressure vessel, so it’s a vessel that holds rocket fuel for a space rocket,” Hughson said.
“It turns out that quite a few have fallen to planet Earth, about one a year.
“100 percent confirmed. It’s space junk.”
Mrs Hughson seemed satisfied with the confirmation and conclusion of her detective work, but now has a whole new source of potential marine pollutants to monitor and campaign about.