The US military confirms the collision of the first interstellar meteorite

The US military confirms the collision of the first interstellar meteorite

(CNN) — A meteor has traveled a long way from home to visit Earth.

Researchers have discovered the first known interstellar meteorite to collide with Earth, according to a document recently released by US Space Command. An interstellar meteorite is a space rock that comes from outside our solar system, which is rare.

This meteorite, known as CNEOS 2014-01-08crashed off the northeast 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 investigating “Oumuamua,” the first known interstellar object in our solar system discovered in 2017, with Harvard University science professor Abraham Loeb.

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.

Great speed

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

The meteor was moving at a high speed, about 45 kilometers per second, relative to Earth, which moves about 30 kilometers per second around the Sun. Since the researchers measured the meteor’s speed from a moving planet, the 45 kilometers per second wasn’t really how fast it was going.

Heliocentric velocity is defined as the speed of the meteor 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 strikes the Earth. The planet is moving in one direction around the Sun, so the meteorite could have hit the Earth from the front, i.e. in the opposite direction the planet is moving, or from behind, in the same direction in which it moves. Earth.

Since the meteor struck Earth from behind, Siraj’s calculations indicated that the meteor was actually moving at around 60 kilometers per second, relative to the Sun.

Siraj then retraced the trajectory of the meteorite and discovered that it was in a free 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 randomly headed into our solar system and collided with Earth,” Siraj said.

Difficulty posting

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

After years of trying to get 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 US Department of Defense and is responsible for military operations in outer space.

“Dr. Joel Mozer, chief scientist for Space Operations Command, the U.S. Space Force service component of U.S. Space Command, reviewed the analysis of additional data available to the Department of Defense related to this discovery. The Mozer has confirmed that the velocity 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 his discovery, so he was shocked by the document.

“I thought we would never know the true nature of this meteorite, that it was just locked up somewhere in the government after our many attempts, so seeing this letter from the Ministry of Defense with my eyes was a truly incredible moment” , said Siraj. .

a second chance

Since receiving the confirmation, Siraj said his team has been working to resubmit their findings for publication in a scientific journal.

Siraj would also like to assemble a team to attempt to recover part of the fallen meteorite from the Pacific Ocean, but admitted that would be an unlikely possibility given the size 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 US Space Command did not initially respond to requests for comment.

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