Floridians are certainly no strangers to wildlife washing up on their beaches, but large parts of European rockets? Not so much.
That's why it came as some surprise when a chunk of metal landed on a Fort Lauderdale beach this Sunday, as first reported by CBS News Miami. In that report, the news source said that the metal seemed to have markings on it that identified it as a piece of the European Space Agency's (ESA) Galileo satellite.
In a follow-up report, online newspaper the Chronicle Council said that NASA had recently reported that the debris was part of a first-stage rocket used by the ESA to launch a satellite in orbit from their French Guyana launch pad. (CNET has contacted both the ESA and NASA for confirmation of this fact, and will update this post when we hear back.)
The Chronicle Council further reports that Angel Rodriguez, an oceanography professor at Fort Lauderdale's Broward College believes that this is a likely scenario, postulating that if the debris landed in the Atlantic, north of Latin America, currents could have delivered it to the Florida coast.
As you can see from the video below showing a Galileo satellite launch, the chunk does indeed look like it could have come from the protective fairing -- the large white head of the Soyuz rocket that puts them into space -- that surrounds the Galileo satellite at liftoff.
"Enclosed in this way, the satellites will be protected from the harsh slipstream and vibration of the first few moments of launch, when the Soyuz is still traveling through the thickest layers of atmosphere," said the ESA in a statement about the fairing on the most recent Galileo launch in March. The space agency added that the fairing is shed from the rocket three minutes and 29 seconds after launch.
The ESA's Galileo project consists of a network of navigational satellites orbiting the Earth. The first two rockets were launched in October 2011; the next two followed in October 2012; two more went up in August 2014; and the most recent to join the pack were the seventh and eight satellites launched on March 27 of this year. The goal is to eventually have a network of 30 satellites in place to provide super-accurate navigational abilities here on Earth.
It's unknown from which of the missions the metal piece that washed up on the beach could have come from.
For now, the Chronicle Council reports that the space junk has been hauled to a nearby tow yard "where it will be held until its owners request it." Although both the Federal Aviation Administration and ESA have been told about the situation, neither agency has responded.