A priceless interstellar meteorite may be at the bottom of the Pacific… but getting it back won’t be easy.
In 2014, a meteor crashed into the Pacific Ocean. At least one fragment, since christened CNEOS 2014-01-08, survived atmospheric re-entry; it ended its course in the water near Papua New Guinea…and researchers haven’t forgotten it. In a post captured by Universe Today, they explain that they even plan to launch a submarine expedition to get your hands on that rock.
It doesn’t take a scientific background to realize that the chances of finding a lone object in the vastness of the ocean with little information are extremely slim. But in this case, why devote resources to a project that, at first glance, seems unreasonable and doomed to failure? To understand this, we must take a closer look at the nature of this object.
A potential interstellar visitor
In fact, the Center for the Study of Near-Earth Objects (CNEOS) had estimated at that time its speed at about 60 kilometers per second; a speed that seemed too great for someone from the solar system. Therefore, several astronomers have suggested that it could be an interstellar object.
This term refers to all space adventurers who are not gravitationally bound to a star. They can be asteroids, comets, or even rogue planets; in any case, these objects are therefore the actors of their own cosmic road-movies and travel alone through the universe.
If so, this would be pretty exceptional news, because these visitors don’t get pushed in the door. In fact, humanity has detected only two such objects in our solar system so far, namely 1I/ʻOumuamua in 2017 and 2I/Borissov. Therefore, the object that fell into the Pacific would only be the third representative of this category to venture so close to Earth.
The American Defense maintains the artistic vagueness
The problem is that as it stands, these data were not precise enough to allow specialists to definitively dispel the doubt. It is above all because the statements in question came from a satellite belonging to the US Department of Defense, an institution that has never hidden its marked taste for artistic blur.
The performance of military satellites has traditionally been very important strategic elements; armies protect them like the apple of their eyes. To avoid revealing too much information about his machine, federal authorities decided to share only snippets of data with investigators.
And while waiting to see more clearly, the scientific community still refuses to officially attribute the title of interstellar object to CNEOS 08-01-2014. It is partly for this reason that the research work of the researchers who explored the possibility of this interstellar origin has not yet passed the course of peer review.
A scientific resource with incredible potential
Suffice it to say that the gray areas are numerous and the chances of success are not really encouraging. But the mere idea of power physically study the first documented interstellar object on Earth enough to put astronomers in all their states; it would be such an exceptional scientific resource that this eventuality alone justifies the launching of such an expedition.
And that is not a euphemism. Because if it is indeed an interstellar object, it is not just a piece of rock that the specialists will track. In essence, we would be facing a true cosmic relicpacked to the brim with information about areas and phenomena thatno human being has had the opportunity to study so closely. The kind of object that on its own could significantly advance our understanding of the universe and the dynamics of the cosmos.
And to look for this needle in this huge haystack, the specialists will fortunately not leave empty-handed. The data fragments provided by the US Space Force allowed the search perimeter to be reduced to an area of approximately 100 km²; still a large area, certainly, but restricted enough that there is a not inconsiderable chance of finding a fragment.
Furthermore, the researchers expect this object to be magnetic; a property that could make it much easier to detect, or even recover.
Therefore, it will be very interesting to follow the progress of this research. Because if they succeed and that CNEOS 2014-01-08 is indeed an interstellar meteorite, it will undoubtedly be an important discovery in the history of astronomy.
The research paper describing the expedition project is available here.
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