US Space Command confirms first interstellar object found that reached Earth

A meteor that burnt up over the skies of Papua New Guinea in 2014 has been confirmed as the first known interstellar object that reached our solar system and entered Earth’s atmosphere.

The confirmation came in a recently-released memo from United States Space Command (USSC), following a study published by a pair of Harvard University researchers in 2019.

Dr Amir Siraj and Dr Abraham Loeb of the university’s astronomy department determined that the meteor originated from an unbound hyperbolic orbit, meaning outside of our solar system, with 99.999% confidence.

Their study came after Loeb had encouraged Siraj to scour NASA’s database of fireballs and meteor impacts for potential interstellar objects following the discovery of the oddly-shaped Oumuamua in 2017.

Siraj discovered that the meteor, which exploded close to Manus Island on 8 January 2014, was travelling faster than 209,000 km/h.

That suggested it originated from the “deep interior of a planetary system or a star in the thick disk of the Milky Way galaxy”.

The USSC’s subsequent analysis of data from the US Department of Defence (DoD) confirmed that the velocity estimate reported in the study was sufficiently accurate to indicate an interstellar trajectory.

The data was gathered from DoD sensors intended to monitor the skies for nuclear detonations.

Search for pieces

Siraj told Vice that he was hopeful about the possibility of a search for pieces of meteorite that might be lying on the ocean floor.

“It would be a big undertaking, but we’re going to look at it in extreme depth because the possibility of getting the first piece of interstellar material is exciting enough to check this very thoroughly and talk to all the world experts on ocean expeditions to recover meteorites,” Siraj said.

He acknowledged, however, that the odds would be slim, given the small size of the meteor and the fact that its pieces were likely strewn over a large area.

Oumuamua was previously thought to have been the first known interstellar object in our solar system.

Its strange pancake-like shape has confounded researchers, with speculation from Loeb himself that it might have been a piece of alien technology.

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US Space Command confirms first interstellar object found that reached Earth