For the first time ever, an object from another star system has been confirmed to have crashed into Earth. In 2014, an object from another star system landed on Earth, according to a memo released by the United States Space Command.
A fireball from outer space has been confirmed to have landed in the waters off Papua New Guinea and may have brought with it interstellar dust.
According to a memo published in the Monthly Notes of the Royal Astronomical Society, this is the first confirmation of an interstellar meteor strike on Earth.
It all began when two Harvard researchers first discovered signs of an interstellar object in our solar system back in 2019 and published their findings on the preprint server arXiv.
A Harvard University student who led the research said the study was awaiting peer review and publication for years, but obstacles arose from the sheer novelty of the find coupled with information classified by the U.S. government.
Scientists have discovered the third-ever interstellar object to enter our solar system.
The meteor, which weighed just a few feet wide, follows recent detections of two other interstellar objects in our solar system, known as ‘Oumuamua and Comet Borisov.
Those two were much larger and did not come into close contact with Earth.
Siraj, who is the Director of Interstellar Object Studies at Harvard’s Galileo Project, knows exactly where to find the space rocks that fell from the sky in Papua New Guinea.
“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,” said Siraj.
Siraj says he gets a kick out of the idea that interstellar material has been delivered to Earth, and we know where it is.
He’s already talking to people about whether or not we can search the ocean floor off the coast of Papua New Guinea for fragments.
“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.”
Siraj recognized the unlikelihood of such discovery because any remnants of the exploded fireball are expected to have landed in tiny amounts across a disparate region of the ocean, making it tricky to track them down.
Because the possibility of recovering the first piece of interstellar material is quite exciting, Siraj says the team will look into the undertaking in great detail.
He also plans to consult with all the world’s experts on ocean expeditions to recover meteorites.
“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 noted.
After the discovery of ‘Oumuamua in 2017, Siraj and Avi Loeb, Frank B. Baird, Jr. Professor of Science at Harvard University, was inspired to search for potential interstellar fireballs in the wake of the discovery.
Loeb, who has famously speculated that ‘Oumuamua might have been a piece of alien technology, suggested that Siraj comb through a database of fireballs and meteor impacts run by NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS).
The 1,000-plus recorded fireball events in the database of the Desert Fireball Network (DFN) in Australia have turned up some interesting finds, but an unusually fast-moving fireball that exploded near Manus Island on January 8, 2014, was particularly eye-catching to Siraj and his colleagues.
That’s because this fireball traveled at a breakneck speed exceeding 130,000 miles per hour. This high rate of speed hinted at “a possible origin from the deep interior of a planetary system or a star in the thick disk of the Milky Way galaxy,” according to Siraj’s team’s 2019 study.
When Siraj first saw the meteor, she was shocked by its speed.
“It was really fast, and so I was like: ‘Oh my God, this could be an interstellar meteor,'” Siraj said.
Siraj, the lead researcher on this project, was excited to see how quickly it all came together.
“It was hiding in plain sight. It wasn’t that we had to dig to find this database. It was more that there hadn’t been an interstellar object until 2017. As a result, no one had a reason to think that there could be meteors that were from outside of the solar system.”
After Siraj and Loeb submitted their discovery to The Astrophysical Journal Letters, the study stalled when it came time to explain why the asteroid was on such a strange trajectory.
Key information was missing from the CNEOS database, having been withheld by the U.S. government; this is a serious charge that deserves further investigation.
The fireball’s velocity is calculated by sensors that detect fireballs. Some of the sensors that detect fireballs are operated by the U.S. Department of Defense, which uses the same technologies to monitor the skies for nuclear detonations.
Because of this, Siraj and Loeb couldn’t directly confirm the margin of error on the fireball’s velocity.
The data they obtained was so secret that the researchers could not publish the paper until they confirmed the information.
Siraj called the multi-year process a “whole saga” as they navigated through Los Alamos National Laboratory, NASA, and other governmental arms, before ultimately landing at the desk of Joel Mozer, Chief Scientist of Space Operations Command at the U.S. Space Force service component of USSC.
Mozer’s March 1 memo indicates that the velocity estimate reported to NASA is “sufficiently accurate to indicate an interstellar trajectory.” Siraj learned about the memo because of a tweet from a NASA scientist and is now attempting to get his original discovery published so that the scientific community can follow up with more targeted research into the implications of the find.
Scientists may have already glimpsed the spectral trace of an intergalactic meteor particle, according to a study published in 2007. Siraj noted that any information about the light emitted by the object as it burned up in the atmosphere could yield insights into the interior composition of the interstellar visitor.
This was a small object, but it indicates that the solar system may be awash in material from other star systems, and even galaxies. Such material could be turned up by future searches. Such efforts could offer a glimpse of worlds beyond the Sun right here on Earth, and perhaps even meteorites from other galaxies.
In a universe full of stars, the chance of an interstellar meteor is small. But Siraj doesn’t see that as a reason to stop looking.
“Given how infrequent interstellar meteors are, extra-galactic meteors are going to be even rarer,” Siraj said.
In order to find more extra-galactic meteors, we need to take it upon ourselves as scientists to build a network as extensive as the U.S. government’s sensor network and use it for the purposes of science and fully use the atmosphere, according to Siraj.
“But the fact of the matter is, going forward, we won’t find anything unless we look for it. We might as well take it upon ourselves as scientists to build a network as extensive as the U.S government’s sensor network and use it for the purposes of science and fully use the atmosphere.”
According to Siraj the atmosphere acts as a sensor for these things. We’re simply not paying attention to the signals. So, we might as well use the whole atmosphere and see what comes our way.
“The atmosphere is already a sensor for these things … We’re just not paying attention to the signals. So we might as well use the whole atmosphere and see what comes our way.”