The US military has confirmed that an Israeli astronomer and his research partner have identified the first interstellar meteorite known to strike Earth.
A space rock crashed into our atmosphere off the coast of Papua New Guinea in 2014, and is the third object known to have visited our solar system from outside the orbit of the Sun.
Avi Loeb, an astronomer from Harvard University from Israel, and his research partner, Amir Siraj, determined that it came from outside our solar system in 2019, but were unable to confirm the result until this month.
Loeb is a well-known and controversial astronomer who argues that another interstellar visitor, an object called Oumuamua that blasted away from the sun in 2017, could have been the creation of an alien civilization.
Scientists have also identified a comet that came to our region from another solar system, making the 2014 meteoroid the third known interstellar object, and the first one to hit Earth. Meteorites are relatively small celestial bodies made of rocks and minerals that enter the Earth’s atmosphere.
Loeb and Siraj were met with skepticism when this happened announce the resultuntil the US military confirmed its findings.
US Space Command, part of the US Department of Defense, said its deputy commander, John E. Shaw, and chief scientist Joel Moser, assert that “the previously discovered interstellar object was indeed an interstellar object.”
The data “confirmed that the velocity estimate reported by NASA is accurate enough to indicate an interstellar path.”
Space Command scientists analyzed additional data to confirm Loeb and Siraj’s discovery, and submitted the results to NASA and the European Space Agency. Space Command is responsible for US military operations in space and monitors space objects that could threaten Earth.
6/ “I had the pleasure of signing a memorandum with Tweet embedChief Scientist, Dr. Moser, to confirm that a previously discovered interstellar object was indeed an interstellar object, an assertion that helped the broader astronomical community. ” pic.twitter.com/PGlIonCSrW
– US Space Command (@US_SpaceCom) April 7, 2022
NASA disputed the space command’s assertion of the meteorite, saying: “The short duration of the data collected, less than five seconds, makes it difficult to determine whether the object’s origin is indeed interstellar.”
The meteor, known as CNEOS 2014-01-08, was roughly the size of a dishwasher, and scattered through our atmosphere near Manus Island in Papua New Guinea on January 8, 2014.
Lamp Books in Scientific American This week, US government satellites designed to detect missile launches have collected data about the meteor.
Siraj was an undergraduate at Harvard at the time of the discovery, and Loeb served as his advisor. The two of them had been studying Oumuamua when they began searching for other interstellar objects, and soon came across the data on the meteorite.
Siraj said that dozens of similar meteorites hit the Earth every year, but these meteorites were traveling at an exceptional speed and coming from an unusual direction, indicating that they came from outside our solar system.
The meteor was traveling in an “unbound orbit,” while other meteors travel in closed orbits as they orbit the sun. Before hitting Earth, the meteorite was traveling at about 60 kilometers (37 miles) per second, a much faster speed than other meteorites.
Loeb and Siraj penned a paper on their discovery and submitted it for peer-reviewed publication, but the journals rejected the research, citing its reliance on classified information. Some US government data is kept confidential for security reasons. The couple said at the time that they were 99.999% confident in their conclusions.
Later they were contacted by a defense official who was able to obtain official confirmation from the Ministry of Defense of the discovery.
A meteor is the third interstellar object ever seen in our solar system, after Oumuamua and A comet seen in 2019 Birosov is called, and neither of them hit the ground. Comets are smaller bodies made up of ice, dust, and rock particles. Asteroids are much larger bodies made of rocks and minerals.
Siraj said Loeb’s findings on the interstellar meteorite indicate the presence of many such objects. His speed, he said, suggested it could have come from “the depths of another planetary system,” near that system’s star, as opposed to the edge of another system, which was seen as more likely.
The researchers are investigating whether parts of the meteorite can be recovered from the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, calling a physical sample “the holy grail of interstellar object studies.” The meteorite crashed when it entered our atmosphere.
Loeb was the longest-serving chair of Harvard’s Department of Astronomy, a position he held from 2011 to 2020, and is currently a science professor at the university.
Related: The Israeli astronomer from Harvard University has an inalienable allure for interstellar study
It came out in public after it was confirmed that Oumuamua, an anomaly from outside the solar system observed skipping the sun in 2017, could be an extraterrestrial artifact.
Hawaiian astronomers only glimpsed the object they called ‘Oumuamua, which means “scout” in Hawaii, as it moved away from the sun, moving irregularly. The strangely shaped object was the first known interstellar object in our solar system. They appear to be small, less than a kilometer long, dark red in color and shaped either as cigars or pies.
Loeb said Oumuamua could be an extraterrestrial artifact, like a light sail powered by sunlight, or a communications dish. Most astronomers think it was natural in origin, but they differ in opinion about what it was, or where it came from.
he is Project Galileo launched Last year, an initiative that will systematically search for physical artifacts produced by “extraterrestrial technological civilizations”. Previous programs, such as the SETI Institute, searched the universe for electromagnetic signals, not objects.
Project Galileo aims to identify non-specific atmospheric phenomena and “Oumuamua-like interstellar objects” through scientific analysis of data collected with state-of-the-art tools. The group said the data and analytical process would be transparent and open to the public.
Siraj is now director of interstellar object studies for the Galileo Project, and this week said the group had received funding to search for a “spacecraft rendezvous” with an interstellar object to extract a physical sample.
Loeb is from the Moshav of Beit Hanan in central Israel, served in the IDF’s prestigious Talpiot program and earned his first degree from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
“Hipster-friendly troublemaker. Communicator. Organizer. Devoted web lover. Unapologetic problem solver. Reader. Explorer. Travel guru.”
When, where, and how to see five planets lined up in the sky this week: NPR
Planets in Parade: 5 planets will line up in the night sky this week
How to see the five planets aligned in the Monday night sky