What just happened? Pieces of space debris found in the mountains of southern New South Wales, Australia, have been confirmed as belonging to a SpaceX craft. The parts are believed to have broken off from the unpressurized trunk of a SpaceX capsule that was jettisoned prior to re-entering earth's atmosphere earlier this year.
Last Thursday, Mick Miners and Jock Wallace, two sheep farmers in the town of Dalgety, reported finding the object. They spoke to Brad Tucker, an astrophysicist at the Australian National University, who noted that their description matched a SpaceX craft that re-entered the earth's atmosphere on July 9, twenty months after it launched in November 2020.
Tucker's initial assessment of the object, which is about 3 meters (9.8 feet) tall and weighs about 20-30 kilograms (22 – 66 pounds), was that it "kind of just looks like a burnt tree […] and then you come up to it, it's like this alien obelisk almost." The heat-resistant materials, including woven carbon fibre, and signs of scorching from re-entry seemed to confirm suspicions. There was also what appeared to be a part number on the side.
The Australian Space Agency has now confirmed the debris is from a SpaceX craft after technical experts from the agency visited the site on Saturday. "The agency has confirmed the debris is from a SpaceX mission and continues to engage with our counterparts in the US, as well as other parts of the commonwealth and local authorities as appropriate," said an agency spokesperson via The Guardian.
Another piece of debris has been found since the first announcement was made, this one further to the west, and more are expected to be discovered over "the coming weeks to months to even years."
G'day @elonmusk, I'm a reporter at @abcnews that's been covering the discovery of @SpaceX debris in Australia. Just wondering, is anyone from your team coming to collect it?— Adriane Reardon (@adrianereardon) August 3, 2022
Here's a pic of one of the pieces' pic.twitter.com/NcJeuigQzx
Discussions are now taking place over whether SpaceX will collect the junk. The actions of Elon Musk's company could affect any potential liability, though so far, it appears that the pieces landed without causing any injuries, damage, or even craters.
It's been a busy week for falling space objects. Monday brought news that another out-of-control Chinese rocket had come falling to earth, the third time such an incident had occurred. The Long March 5B re-entered the atmosphere on Saturday over the Indian Ocean before crashing somewhere near the Malaysian state of Sarawak on the island of Borneo. Check out these videos of the pieces blazing a trail through the night sky.