Monday, May 16, 2022

Confirmed: Meteorite that hit Earth in 2014 was interstellar

It may have left interstellar debris on the seafloor.

In 2014, a meter-sized rock object called CNEOS 2014-01-08 was spotted that later exploded in the skies over Papua New Guinea. It also sprinkled interstellar debris into the South Pacific Ocean. Now, U.S. Space Command (USSC) confirmed that the object was indeed an interstellar object.

The object was a small meteorite roughly 1.5 feet (0.45 meters) across. The object traveled through space at more than 130,000 mph (210,000 km/h) and arrived in Earth’s atmosphere in early 2014. What made this object unique from other fireballs that occur each year is its very high speed and unusual direction in which it encountered the Earth. This indicates that the object came from interstellar space.

In 2019, scientists argued that the object’s speed and trajectory of its orbit indicate that the object possibly originated from the deep interior of a planetary system or a star in the thick disk of the Milky Way galaxy. However, the peer review and publication of the paper was put on hold because the U.S. military had classified some of the data needed to confirm the scientists’ calculations.

Now, U.S. Space Command supports the 2019 findings (By Amir Siraj and study co-author Avi Loeb, who serves as Frank B. Baird, Jr. Professor of Science at Harvard University) and confirms that the velocity estimate reported is sufficiently accurate to indicate an interstellar trajectory.

This object’s discovery follows recent detections of two other interstellar objects in our solar system: ‘Oumuamua and Comet Borisov. Both objects were larger and did not come closer to Earth.

Siraj, who is now Director of Interstellar Object Studies at Harvard’s Galileo Project and the lead author of the 2019 paper, told Vice“I get a kick out of just thinking about the fact that we have interstellar material that was delivered to Earth, and we know where it is. One thing that I’m going to be checking—and I’m already talking to people about—is whether it is possible to search the ocean floor off the coast of Papua New Guinea and see if we can get any fragments.”

“The odds of such a find are low because any remnants of the exploded fireball probably landed in tiny amounts across a disparate region of the ocean, making it tricky to track them down.”

“It would be a big undertaking, but we’re going to look at it in extreme depth because the possibility of getting the first piece of interstellar material is exciting enough to check this very thoroughly and talk to all the world experts on ocean expeditions to recover meteorites.”

Siraj still intends to get the original discovery published so that the scientific community can follow up with more targeted research into the implications of the find.

He noted, “For instance, any information about the light emitted by the object as it burned up in the atmosphere could yield insights about the interior composition of the interstellar visitor.”

“While this was an incredibly small object, it indicates that the solar system may be awash in material from other star systems, and indeed even other galaxies, that could be turned up by future searches. Such efforts could offer a glimpse of the worlds beyond the Sun right here on Earth, and perhaps even unearth bonafide interstellar meteorites.”


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