Scientists are planning to search the ocean for an interstellar object that struck Earth
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Featured Image Credit: Sander Meertins / WILDLIFE GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo
Scientists are hoping to trawl the ocean floor with a large magnet to collect pieces of the first known interstellar object to hit Earth.
In 2014, then graduate student Amir Siraj and Harvard professor Avi Loeb recognised an object that crashed into the ocean off the coast of Papua New Guinea.
The data they collected suggested it could be an interstellar object - the first known to hit Earth and the third ever recorded.
Interstellar objects are such as asteroid, comets, or rogue planets that are not gravitationally bound to a star
Other interstellar objects Oumuamua and Borisov never entered Earth's atmosphere.
Siraj and Loeb believed the interstellar object dubbed CNEOS 2014-01-08 came from beyond our solar system due to its unusually high heliocentric velocity.
The meteorite measured at about a half-meter wide burned up during its descent into Earth's atmosphere, leaving only fragments behind across the ocean floor.
The issue in 2014 however, was the data used to measure the object's impact which would confirm whether it is an interstellar object came from a US Department of Defense spy satellite. Details of the object were a carefully guarded secret as a result.
A paper by Siraj and Loeb therefore remains unpublished and has not been peer reviewed.
Yet this year in March US Space Force's Space Operations Command's chief scientist Joel Mozer reviewed the classified data and confirmed that the 'velocity estimate reported to NASA is sufficiently accurate to indicate an interstellar trajectory'.
US Space Force lieutenant general John Shaw signed the letter confirming the interstellar object.
6/ “I had the pleasure of signing a memo with @ussfspoc’s Chief Scientist, Dr. Mozer, to confirm that a previously-detected interstellar object was indeed an interstellar object, a confirmation that assisted the broader astronomical community.” pic.twitter.com/PGlIOnCSrW— U.S. Space Command (@US_SpaceCom) April 7, 2022
Siraj and Loeb have viewed this confirmation from Space Force as further support in the need to collect the object's fragments scattered along the ocean floor. Tracking data from the spy satellite, ocean current data and wind data could provide a search area of 10km².
The meteorite fragments are likely magnetic which would allow a ship trawling with a large magnet to pick up the pieces. The two researchers have already started work on just that as outlined in their most recent paper submitted to Cornell University last month.
Loeb said in an interview with Fraser Cain for Universe Today that the expedition would give them the scientific community the chance 'to actually put our hands on the relic and figure out whether it’s natural, whether it’s a rock, or whether, you know, a small fraction of those [interstellar objects] might be artificial'.