An interstellar object would have hit Earth. Scientists are now looking for it on the ocean floor
Article by: Andacs Robert Eugen, on 05 August 2022, at 05:48 am Los Angeles time
In 2014, an object crashed into the ocean just off the coast
of Papua New Guinea. Data collected at the time indicated that the meteorite
could be an interstellar object, and if this is true, then it is only the third
such object known (after 'Oumuamua and Borisov) and the first known to exist on
Launching an underwater expedition to find it would be a long-term endeavor, but the scientific payoff could be enormous.
Dubbed CNEOS 2014-01-08, the interstellar object reportedly measured about half a meter across, and its potentially interstellar origins were first recognized by a student named Amir Siraj and his professor Avi Loeb at Harvard.
Using data from the catalog on the object's trajectory, Siraj and Loeb concluded that it could come from beyond our solar system due to its unusually high heliocentric velocity. However, there is a problem. The data used to measure the object's impact on Earth came from a US Department of Defense spy satellite designed to monitor military activities on Earth.
As such, the exact values of the measurement errors are a closely guarded secret - the US military is wary of turning their satellite's precise capabilities into public information.
But in the absence of these details, much of the scientific community remains reluctant to officially classify CNEOS 2014-01-08 as an interstellar object. Therefore, Siraj and Loeb's paper remains unpublished, having not yet undergone peer review.
Their claim was bolstered in April 2022, however, when Joel Mozer, chief scientist of the US Space Operations Command, reviewed the classified data in question and "confirmed that the velocity estimate reported to NASA is sufficiently accurate to indicate an interstellar trajectory".
While the official scientific classification of CNEOS 2014-01-08 appears to remain unclear for now, the US Space Force statement was enough to convince Siraj and Loeb of its interstellar origin, and they have now moved on to propose possible ways to find the object and study it closely.
Much of the meteorite would have burned up during its descent into Earth's atmosphere, probably leaving behind only fragments that ended up scattered on the ocean floor.
However, all hope is not lost, as satellite tracking data combined with wind and ocean, current data can provide a reasonable search area of only 10 square km.
More importantly, the fragments are expected to be magnetic, so a ship traveling with a large magnet could pick up the tiny meteorite fragments from the ocean floor.
Siraj and Loeb aim to do just that, and they've teamed up with an ocean technology consulting company to make it happen.
In an interview with Universe Today, Loeb explained that such a search could give us "the opportunity to get our hands on the relic and figure out if it's natural, if it's a rock, or if it's a small part of these [interstellar objects] could be artificial."
Even if it's just a rock-which is by far the most likely explanation-it will tell us a lot about the composition of rocky matter outside our solar system, and that would be a valuable asset in itself.