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Researchers find first scraps of interstellar object that hit earth in 2014

Team lead by Israeli-American astronomer Avi Loeb is searching for remains of star-traveling IM1, which crashed into Pacific Ocean

A spherule believed to be from interstellar object IM1. (Medium/Avi Loeb. (Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
A spherule believed to be from interstellar object IM1. (Medium/Avi Loeb. (Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

A team of researchers combing the ocean floor say they have found the first remains of a confirmed interstellar object that crashed into the Pacific Ocean in 2014.

Avi Loeb, an Israeli-American astronomer based at Harvard University who is leading the team, reported Wednesday that separated magnetic spherules “of mostly iron with some magnesium and titanium but no nickel” had been discovered.

Such a composition is “anomalous compared to human-made alloys, known asteroids and familiar astrophysical sources,” Loeb wrote in a blog that he is updating from the research ship Silver Star.

The ship sailed earlier this month for the location in the Pacific Ocean where IM1, a mysterious, half-meter-sized meteor, plunged through the atmosphere as a fireball and then hit the water off Papua New Guinea.

Researchers are using a deep-sea magnetic sled to comb the ocean floor for remains of the object, which Loeb has theorized could be an alien technology.

Loeb and his assistant Amir Siraj were the first to suggest that IM1 was of interstellar origin, coming from deep in space rather than a local asteroid of the solar system. Their theory was eventually confirmed by US Space Command last year. It put IM1 on a very short list of three verified interstellar objects, joining the comet Borisov and the headline-making 2017 object dubbed “Oumuamua,” Hawaiian for “traveler,” that Loeb posits was not only interstellar but possibly extraterrestrial technology.

In his blog post Loeb described observing “a spherule, 0.3 millimeter in size, looking like a metallic pearl on the background of volcanic ash.”

“It felt like finding an ant in the kitchen. When you find one, you know that there must be many more. Indeed, I could find many more metallic spheres in the same microscope image.”

The team is now searching for more such spherules.

In an email to Vice magazine, Loeb wrote that the project “reflects a unique opportunity to learn about other technological civilizations in the cosmos by studying the Pacific Ocean.”

The search for IM1 fragments, called The Galileo Project Expedition, began on June 11 and will continue till June 29. It is part of The Galileo Project, in which Loeb hopes to find evidence of extraterrestrial civilization.

Previously the team found a small curled wire of manganese and platinum, which Loeb described as “anomalous compared to human-made alloys,” and steel shards, but he admits more time and research is need to properly assess those finds.

Prof. Avi Loeb at the Harvard College Observatory, March 1, 2022. (Courtesy of Leslie Kean)

Loeb has also suggested natural explanations for IM1 and another, similar object, IM2, that hit Earth in 2017, saying they could have been caused by a supernova flinging debris out into space.

“During the expedition, I had the insight that we can identify the star from where IM1 came by dating its materials using radioisotopes,” he told Vice.

“We know IM1’s travel direction and speed when it entered the solar system. From its travel time, we can therefore infer the distance and direction of its point of origin.”

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