Scientists search ocean for interstellar object that hit Earth in 2014

Scientists have launched an underwater expedition to track down and collect the pieces of the first known interstellar object that hit Earth in 2014, reports Science Alert. Said object had crashed into the ocean just off Papua New Guinea.

Examples of interstellar objects are asteroids, comets, or rogue planets that are not gravitationally bound to a star.

Data at the time revealed the object to be a meteorite. Dubbed CNEOS 2014-01-08, the object would have measured about half a meter across, and its potentially interstellar origins were first recognized by graduate student Amir Siraj and Harvard professor Avi Loeb.

Data they collected at the time indicated that it could be an interstellar object, the first known to hit Earth and the third on record. The other two recorded interstellar objects are Oumuamua and Borisov.

Siraj and Loeb had concluded that CNEOS 2014-01-08 may have come from beyond our solar system due to its unusually high heliocentric velocity, meaning it was moving at speeds that suggest it might not not be related to the Sun’s gravity.

However, the problem in 2014 was that the data used to measure the object’s impact that would confirm whether it is an interstellar object came from a US Department of Defense spy satellite. Accordingly, the details of the object have been carefully guarded.

Consequently, an article by Siraj and Loeb remained unpublished and unpeer reviewed.

But this year in March, US Space Force Space Operations Command Chief Scientist Joel Mozer reviewed the classified data and confirmed that “the velocity estimate reported to NASA is accurate enough to indicate a interstellar trajectory”.

US Space Force Lt. Gen. John Shaw signed the letter confirming the interstellar object.

However, tracing the remnants of the meteorite is likely to pose challenges as it could burn up on its descent through Earth’s atmosphere, likely leaving only fragments, strewn across the ocean floor.

Therefore, the expedition team would likely carry a large magnet attached to a trawler to pick up the pieces.

In an interview for Universe Today last year, Loeb said the expedition would give the scientific community a chance “to get their hands on the relic and determine if it’s natural, if it’s a rock or if, you know, a small fraction of those [interstellar objects] could be artificial.

(With agency contributions)

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Brandon D. James