The mysterious object washed ashore on a beach in Western Australia, about 250km (155 miles) north of Perth. Local authorities are still investigating what the item could be, but police have warned people to keep a safe distance. There was speculation that it could be part of a fuel tank from a space rocket. Reddit users then quickly identifed it as being part of the third stage of India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV).
It comes just a few months after another strange object – a 1.5m-wide (5ft), almost perfectly sphere washed up on the coast of Japan near the city of Hamamatsu, prompting widespread speculation about what it might be. Despite its metallic exterior, it was probably not an explosive mine – though bomb experts did check. Nor was it thought to be a surveillance device, fears of which have been fuelled by the recent reports of Chinese spy balloons drifting over the continental US.
Neither incident is the first time a mysterious object has appeared on a coastline. In 2019, police in London responded to reports of an unexploded device on the banks of the Thames in Wapping – it turned out to be a giant Christmas bauble.
Every year, the ocean washes up many unusual items that often can’t be explained at first.
In recent years, beachcombers have stumbled on:
An unusual 24m-long (84ft) wood and metal object in Florida in 2022 that people speculated could be a barrier, old pier or even row of spectator seats from a Nascar race. Archaeologists later found it was a shipwreck.
For 35 years, residents of a coast in Brittany were puzzled why landline telephones based on the cartoon cat Garfield were washing up. The culprit – a lost shipping container – was only recently located.
A decade ago, blocks of rubbery material engraved with the word Tjipeter appeared all over Europe. They may have come from a rubber plantation in Indonesia. Another rubbery mystery washed ashore last year when a curious layered block found at Falmouth, UK, which may have been a 100-year-old bale of rubber sheets. Another had been found in Shetland, Scotland in 2020.
A large foam object in South Carolina in 2018 that some outlets labelled as “space junk”, but a more sober analysis from local authorities later suggested was a buoy.
One thing that these beach-finds often reveal is just how far objects can travel, and how long they can stay at sea. Materials like plastic or rubber can endure in the ocean for decades, and travel thousands of miles.