Brisbane, March 29 : An Australian scientist says that a ball-shaped mystery metal object, which was found late last year on a remote western Queensland farm, was space junk.
Mark Rigby, the curator of Brisbane Planetarium who was assigned to examine the item named 2006-047-C by staff at a Charleville school, said that the object was surely a helium or nitrogen tank from a rocket, which had probably been used to blast a US solar satellite into space more than 18 months ago.
"I looked at what had been coming down around that time and orbits and things like that and managed to narrow the time frame based on when the farmer found it," brisbanetimes.com.au quoted him as saying.
"This particular object was predicted for re-entry (into the Earth's atmosphere) at 11.47am Australian Eastern Standard time on November 1st, which would have put it near Indonesia. I don't know why, but I think it has just sort of limped on a bit and ended up in Charleville," he added.
Farmer James Stirton, the owner of a nearby farm, found the 54cm wide and 20kg burnt-up ball in his 40,500-hectare field in Cheepie, west of Charleville, on November 7.
"I was just riding along on my bike and it was beside the road, beside a track out in the paddock,'' Stirton said.
"I just wondered what it was so I went over and had a look at it and I figured it must have fallen from the sky because there's no tracks or traffic or anything out here,'' he added.
Stirton even contacted NASA, but was told that they had no way of tracking where the object came from.
However, Rigby checked space flight records, and came to the conclusion that the rocket would have been launched form Cape Canaveral in Florida on October 26, 2006, to send up one of two Stereo satellites into orbit to study the sun.
He said that the falling space junk was not as uncommon as people might think.
"There is about 5000 tonnes' worth of operational and non-operational satellites and space junk in orbit at any one time," he said.
"That's equivalent to 450 Brisbane City Council buses. There are things like this re-entering the Earth's atmosphere every week....(and) the predictions can be quite uncertain about where it is going to come down. It is not unheard of for these tanks to be found in Queensland and other remote parts of Australia," he added.