US Space Command confirms interstellar meteor hit Earth

US Space Command announced this week that it determined that a 2014 meteor strike that hit Earth originated from outside the solar system. The meteor streaked across the sky off the coast of Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, three years earlier than what was believed to be the first confirmed interstellar object detected entering our solar system.

Dr. Amir Siraj and Dr. Abraham Loeb of Harvard University’s Astronomy Department wrote a paper on the meteor, according to US Space Command. However, scientists struggled to get papers published because they used classified government information.

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

The meter-sized rock streaked across the sky and rained debris down into the depths of the Pacific Ocean, and the Department of Defense and NASA added the meteor to a public database. Siraj said the database, which contains information on more than 900 other fireballs recorded between 1988 and today, caught his eye.

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

Siraj and Loeb were about eight months into their study of Oumuamua, but realized after just a few days of consulting the database that the Manus Island fireball in 2014 could be an earlier interstellar meteor.

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

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

However, their paper fell into good hands. Matt Daniels, who at the time worked for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, read the document and helped researchers obtain a official confirmation of the government.

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

“Three years after our initial discovery, the first object from outside the solar system observed to hit Earth – the first known interstellar meteor – has been officially recognized,” Siraj writes. He and Loeb are resubmitting the paper for publication now that the find 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” in honor of amateur astronomer Gennady Borisov who himself built the telescope and observed the comet.

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