A large chunk of debris found floating in the sea off of southwestern England could be part of a SpaceX rocket that exploded after launch in Florida in June, officials say.
The section of metal debris, measuring around 13 feet wide by 33 feet long, was found Thursday near the Cornish peninsula of Great Britain, more than 4,000 miles from Florida's Cape Canaveral, where SpaceX launched are conducted.
Boat captain Joseph Thomas, who spotted the wreckage, said the word "Falcon 9" were visible on the floating piece of debris.
SpaceX, Elon Musk's private commercial aerospace firm, builds the Falcon 9 rocket.
"There were lots of gulls on the water and I thought initially it was a dead whale and the birds were feeding off it," Thomas said.
Once he got close to the barnacle-encrusted object, he realized it was something man-made, he said.
"First thoughts were that it was part of a plane, but then we scraped the barnacles off and we saw it was part of a rocket," he explained.
The debris was towed to shore and put under guard as authorities examined it for serial numbers and prepared to contact SpaceX for information.
Markings on the debris include and American Flag, suggesting it is "most likely to be (from) the unmanned Space X Falcon 9 which blew up shortly after takeoff from Cape Canaveral in June," said Martin Leslie, area commander for the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency.
However, some experts suggested the debris piece was too large to have come from that launch, since the explosion is assumed to have shredded the rocket into mostly small pieces.
The large piece of debris may be from an earlier, successful launch of a Falcon 9 in September 2014 on a mission to deliver 5,000 pounds of supplies and experiments to the International Space Station in a Dragon cargo capsule.
The first stage of that rocket fell back to Earth over the Atlantic Ocean off the East Coast of the United States.
Ocean currents including the Gulf Stream and the North Atlantic Current could have carried the debris to the waters off England, experts say.