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Scientists believe they have recovered the first known interstellar meteorite

A scientific expedition in the Pacific off the coast of Papua New Guinea has found what it thinks are spherules from the first known interstellar meteorite that hit the Earth on January 8, 2014 and dubbed IM1. From their preprint paper [pdf]:

On 8 January 2014 US government satellite sensors detected three atmospheric detonations in rapid succession about 84 km north of Manus Island, outside the territorial waters of Papua New Guinea (20 km). Analysis of the trajectory suggested an interstellar origin of the causative object CNEOS 2014-01-08: an arrival velocity relative to Earth in excess of ∼ 45 km s−1, and a vector tracked back to outside the plane of the ecliptic. The object’s speed relative to the Local Standard of Rest of the Milky-Way galaxy, ∼ 60 km s−1, was higher than 95% of the stars in the Sun’s vicinity.

In 2022 the US Space Command issued a formal letter to NASA certifying a 99.999% likelihood that the object was interstellar in origin.

Using a “magnetic sled” that they dragged across the seafloor, the scientists collected about 700 spherules thought to come from the meteorite, of which 57 have been analyzed and found to have properties that confirm their interstellar origin. As they note in their paper, “The spherules with enrichment of beryllium (Be), lanthanum (La) and uranium (U), labeled “BeLaU”, appear to have an exotic composition different from other solar system materials.”

The “BeLaU” elemental abundance pattern does not match terrestrial alloys, fallout from nuclear explosions, magma ocean abundances of Earth, its Moon or Mars or other natural meteorites in the solar system. This supports the interstellar origin of IM1 independently of the measurement of its high speed, as reported in the CNEOS catalog and confirmed by the US Space Command.

Based on the sparse data, the scientists speculate that these spherules could have come from the crust of an exoplanet, the core collapse of a supernova, the merger of two neutron stars, and even possibly “an extraterrestrial technological origin.” They have no idea, but all these are among the possibilities.

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  • David Ross

    Avi Loeb ran this show. He is taking a dunk upon those who sneered at him in earlier publications.
    I hope he’s saved some extra spherules for other researchers to check his work. Personally I was never one of the sneer-ers, but I am still hoping for reproducibility.

  • J Fincannon

    I was a sneerer.

    1) Loeb thought he could use a magnetic sled to pick up pieces of ET spaceship. This made the assumption the material is magnetic. What would we use to go interstellar? Titanium (non magnetic). Aluminum (non magnetic). Even graphite epoxy composites. An advanced ET would use diamond or carbon nanotubes or something else not from the Iron Age. Come on man!
    2) His trajectory calculations did not have enough error bars to reflect lack of accuracy in data. You need probability spreads. He was just driving his ship willy nilly.
    3) He did not address how he differentiates these off planet spherules from our own solar system debris. The number of tons of meteorites entering the Earth’s atmosphere every year is ~5200. In “The micrometeorite flux at Dome C (Antarctica), monitoring the accretion of extraterrestrial dust on Earth”, they state “The mass distributions were fitted with log-normal distributions. Comparison with previous measurements up to higher sizes enabled extrapolation to a global flux covering the 12-700 μm diameter range at Earth’s surface of (1600+-500) and (3600+-1000) tons per yr for unmelted micrometeorites and cosmic spherules, respectively.” So did he collect sled data outside his target zone to establish a baseline? I bet not. Anyway, assuming the spread of this amount over the entire Earth surface for 1 year gets you 2549 meteoric dust particles in 1 km^2 (put on your N95 mask!). He found 290 per km^2. So, how does he know which is which?

    He got $1 million to do this from deep pocketed donors. All based on name recognition and gravitas.

  • Steve Richter

    NY Times magazine had a long article on Avi Loeb this month.
    His quest to find the remnants of this interstellar object features prominently in the article.

    The week after Loeb showed me the observatory, I joined a planning meeting for another Galileo Project initiative — an effort to retrieve an unusual meteorite that had fallen to Earth. Several years ago, Amir Siraj, a Harvard undergraduate working with Loeb, identified a curious entry in a government meteor database: On Jan. 8, 2014, an object exploded near Papua New Guinea. Its orbit suggested an origin outside our solar system, though it was impossible to say for sure because the government satellites that detected it were classified. In 2022, after a lot of prodding from Loeb, the U.S. Space Command released a letter saying with “99.999 percent confidence” that the Papua New Guinea fireball was interstellar. The government also published the meteor’s light curve, a graph of its brightness over time. From this, Loeb concluded that it had exploded so close to the Earth’s surface that it must have been made of something much harder than normal meteors, maybe even an artificial alloy like stainless steel. Which made him wonder: What if it was an extraterrestrial probe? And could he find its remains?

  • Edward_2

    Might the unseen side of the Moon be littered with interstellar material?

    Cut ’em open and look what’s inside.

  • MichiCanuck

    The key to answer the questions of origin will only be produced by isotopic ratio measurements. H, O, W, Pb, Sr, Nd, U, Th, K, Ca, and the 5 stable noble gases

  • GeorgeC

    JFincannon, yes the team did run the sled outside landing zone areas as a control. I found I had to read the original sources for a less confusing picture. The thing depends on papers that go back before his book and his light sail work

    The idea that iron would be involved csme from color analysis of the meteor explosion plus other reasons.

    I still have not understood the paper that estimates the amount of solid debri the average star would need to be kicking out in order that we could have a chamce to see even one a decade.

  • Jeff Wright

    I want Project Lyra and Interstellar Probe to be the same….NTR stop SLS with NEP probe to chase down Ouamuamua.

  • J Fincannon

    I would not say it could not be a natural object from outside our solar system. But Loeb has been pushing the alien spaceship angle. Daft.

    You should see his posh group @ the Galileo Project. Groupies and sycophants. Likely nice people though.

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