The US Space Command confirms that an interstellar meteorite hit Earth

The US Space Command announced this week that it determined that a 2014 meteorite impact that hit Earth came from outside the solar system. The meteor streaked through the sky off the coast of Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, three years before what was believed to be the first confirmed interstellar object detected to enter our solar system.

Dr. Amir Siraj and Dr. Abraham Loeb of the Department of Astronomy at Harvard University wrote a paper on the meteorite, the US Space Command says. However, the scientists had trouble publishing the paper because they used information government classified.

A classified US government satellite designed to detect foreign missiles witnessed the fireball, Siraj writes in Scientific American magazine. The meteor was unusual due to its very high speed and unusual direction, which suggested that it came from interstellar space.

The meter-sized rock tore through the sky and hurled debris into the depths of the Pacific Ocean, and the Department of Defense and NASA added the meteorite to a public database. Siraj said the database, which contains information on more than 900 fireballs recorded between 1988 and the present, caught his attention.

The researchers originally believed that the first interstellar object detected in our solar system was discovered in October 2017. That object, 1I/’Oumuamua, was leaving the solar system when it was discovered, so researchers didn’t have much time to study it. It was described as a “giant pink fire extinguisher” shape and was discovered by the Pan-STARRS telescope in Hawaii.

Siraj and Loeb had been into their study of ‘Oumuamua for about eight months, but realized after just a few days of looking at the database, the 2014 Manus Island fireball could be an earlier interstellar meteorite.

Any space object traveling faster than 42 kilometers per second can come from interstellar space. The data showed that the 2014 Manus Island fireball hit Earth’s atmosphere at about 45 kilometers per second, which was “very promising” for identifying it as interstellar, Siraj said.

After more research and help from other scientists, including classified government information about the accuracy or precision level of the data, Siraj and Loeb determined with 99.999% certainty that the object was interstellar. But their article about the find was rejected because the couple only had a private conversation with an anonymous US government employee to confirm the accuracy of the data.

However, his role fell into the right hands. Matt Daniels, who was working for the Office of the Secretary of Defense at the time, read the document and helped investigators obtain a official confirmation of the government.

Lt. Gen. John Shaw, deputy commander of the US Space Force, and Joel Mozer, chief scientist for the branch’s Space Operations Command, wrote a letter to a NASA scientist confirming Siraj and Loeb’s findings.

“Three years after our original discovery, the first object originating from outside the solar system to collide with Earth, the first known interstellar meteorite, has been officially recognized,” Siraj writes. He and Loeb are resubmitting the article for publication now that the discovery is officially confirmed, he told CBS News via email.

The second interstellar object detected in our solar system was discovered from the MARGO observatory in Crimea, Ukraine in 2019. It was later named “2I/Borisov” after amateur astronomer Gennady Borisov, who built the telescope himself and observed the comet.

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