The US military confirms the collision of the first interstellar meteorite

(CNN) – A meteor has traveled far from home to visit Earth.

Researchers have discovered the first known interstellar meteorite to collide with Earth, according to a recently published US space command document. An interstellar meteorite is a space rock that originates outside our solar system, which is rare.

This meteorite, known as CNEOS 2014-01-08crashed off the northeastern coast of Papua New Guinea on January 8, 2014.

The discovery surprised Amir Siraj, who identified the object as an interstellar meteorite in a 2019 study he co-authored as a student at Harvard University.

Siraj was studying “Oumuamua”, the first known interstellar object in our solar system that was found in 2017, with Abraham Loeb, a science professor at Harvard University.

Siraj decided to check NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies database for other interstellar objects and found what he believed to be an interstellar meteor within days.

High speed

The meteorite’s high speed is what first caught Siraj’s attention.

The meteor was moving at a high speed, about 45 kilometers per second, relative to the Earth, which is moving about 30 kilometers per second around the Sun. Because the researchers measured the meteor’s speed from a moving planet, the 45 kilometers per second was not quite the speed at which it was going.

Heliocentric velocity is defined as the meteor’s velocity relative to the Sun, which is a more accurate way to determine an object’s orbit. It is calculated based on the angle at which the meteor hits the Earth. The planet is moving in one direction around the Sun, so the meteorite may have hit the Earth head-on, that is, in the opposite direction that the planet is moving, or from behind, in the same direction it is moving. Land.

As the meteor hit the Earth from behind, Siraj’s calculations indicated that the meteor was indeed traveling at about 60 kilometers per second, relative to the Sun.

Siraj then charted the meteorite’s trajectory and found that it was in an unconstrained orbit, unlike the closed orbit of other meteorites. This means that instead of circling the Sun like other meteorites, it came from outside the solar system.

“It was probably produced by another star, ejected from that star’s planetary system and by chance headed into our solar system and collided with Earth,” Siraj said.

Difficulty of publication

Loeb and Siraj were unable to publish their findings in a newspaper because their data comes from NASA’s CNEOS database, which does not release information such as the accuracy of the readings.

After years of trying to obtain the necessary additional information, they received official confirmation that it was, in fact, an interstellar meteorite, from John Shaw, deputy commander of the United States Space Command. This command is part of the United States Department of Defense and is responsible for military operations in space.

“Dr. Joel Mozer, chief scientist of Space Operations Command, the US Space Force service component of the United States Space Command, reviewed the analysis of the additional data available to the Department of Defense relating to this discovery. Dr. Mozer confirmed that the speed estimate reported to NASA is accurate enough to indicate an interstellar trajectory, ”Shaw wrote in the letter.

Siraj had moved on to other investigations and had almost forgotten about his discovery, so he was shocked by the document.

“I thought we would never know the true nature of this meteorite, which had been locked up somewhere in the government after our numerous attempts, so really seeing that letter from the Department of Defense with my own eyes was a truly incredible moment.” Siraj said.

a second chance

Since receiving confirmation, Siraj said his team is working on resubmitting the results for publication in a scientific journal.

Siraj would also like to put together a team to try to recover part of the meteorite that fell in the Pacific Ocean, but admitted that would be an unlikely possibility given the scale of the project.

If researchers could get their hands on the “Holy Grail of interstellar objects,” Siraj said it would be scientifically groundbreaking in helping scientists discover more about the world beyond our solar system.

NASA and the US Space Command initially did not respond to requests for comment.

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