An object struck the water in the year 2014 not far from the coast of Papua New Guinea. The meteorite may be an interstellar object, according to data gathered at the time; if so, it would be the first interstellar object known to exist on Earth and just the third known (after ‘Oumuamua and Borisov).
Although it would be a long shot to start an underwater expedition in search of it, the scientific benefits may be huge.
Which Interstellar Object Has Struck Earth?
The candidate interstellar object, known as CNEOS 2014-01-08, is thought to have measured about half a metre in width. Harvard professor Avi Loeb and then-graduate student Amir Siraj were the first to identify the object’s potential interstellar origins.
Why Is CNEOS 2014-01-08 Considered As A Candidate For That Interstellar Object?
Its exceptionally high heliocentric velocity, or the fact that it was travelling at rates that suggested it might not be trapped inside the Sun’s gravity well, led Siraj and Loeb to draw this conclusion using catalogue information on the object’s journey.
There is a caveat, though. Data from a US Department of Defense spy satellite meant to track military activity on Earth provided the information needed to calculate the object’s impact with the planet.
The US military is hesitant to let the specific capabilities of its satellite be made public, hence the measurement’s exact error numbers are a closely held secret.
Why Many Scientists Not Considering CNEOS 2014-01-08 As An Interstellar Object?
However, many members of the scientific community continue to be understandably reluctant to formally designate CNEOS 2014-01-08 as an interstellar object in the absence of this information. As a result, Siraj and Loeb’s paper is still unpublished because it hasn’t gone through peer review.
However, their argument was strengthened in April 2022 when Joel Mozer, the Chief Scientist of the US Space Force’s Space Operations Command, examined the relevant classified data and “confirmed that the velocity estimate reported to NASA is sufficiently accurate to indicate an interstellar trajectory.”
Why Does Siraj and Loeb Think CNEOS 2014-01-08 Is An Interstellar Object?
Siraj and Loeb were persuaded of the object’s interstellar origin by the US Space Force’s statement, which was sufficient to persuade them of its origin despite the official scientific classification of CNEOS 2014-01-08 appearing doomed to remain in limbo for the time being. They have since proposed strategies for discovering the object and studying it closely.
The meteorite would have burned up in large portions when it entered the atmosphere of Earth, probably leaving just shards that are now dispersed across the ocean floor.
However, there is still some optimism because the tracking information from the satellite, along with information on the wind and ocean currents, can give a reasonable search area of only 10 km by 10 km.
How Can We Track This Meteorite?
A ship trawling with a powerful magnet may be able to collect the tiny meteorite fragments from the ocean floor because it is anticipated that the fragments would be magnetic.
In order to carry out their proposal, Siraj and Loeb have partnered with a consultancy firm specialising in maritime technologies.
A search like this might give us “the chance to actually put the relic in our hands and figure out if it’s natural, whether it’s a rock, or whether, you know, a small fraction of those [interstellar objects] might be manufactured,” Loeb said in an interview with Universe Today last year.
The Speculations About Interstellar Objects.
In recent years, Loeb has been outspoken regarding the possibility that interstellar objects like CNEOS 2014-01-08, ‘Oumuamua, and Borisov are man-made creations of extraterrestrial intelligence. One of his primary scientific interests as the leader of the Galileo Project is the lookout for signs of intelligent life elsewhere in the cosmos.
However, some of his astronomical peers have criticised him for some of his most outlandish assertions. Loeb isn’t speculating that CNEOS 2014-01-08 is an alien artifact in this case, though.
In their most recent work documenting the ocean excursion, he and Siraj conclude, “This discovery does not imply that the first interstellar meteor was purposely created by a technological society and not natural in origin.” But it’s obvious that Loeb believes that going to find the object and having a look wouldn’t be harmful.
Even if it is only a rock, which is by far the most likely scenario, it will nevertheless provide us with significant information on the makeup of rocky materials outside of our Solar System.