It was in 2017 when an object raised curiosity among astronomers and commoners the world over. Oumuamua, was coming from outside of our solar system, the region known as interstellar space. But, was it the first visitor to travel close to Earth? At the time it was.
A secret memo released by the US Space Command now confirms another object from another star system visited Earth three years before Oumuamua in 2014. This object ignited into a fireball over Papua New Guinea and sprinkled interstellar debris into the South Pacific Ocean. The memo confirms the theory of two Harvard University researchers, who were the first to propose that this meteor was indeed from outside our solar system.
With the confirmation, the meteor is not just the first object from interstellar space to visit Earth, but also the first to hit the planet from another star system.
Scientists believe that the object was just a few feet across but was big enough to dump debris into the ocean. The US Space Command in its memo said that Dr. Joel Mozer, Chief Scientist of Space Operations Command, reviewed the analysis of additional data and confirmed that the velocity estimate of the object was sufficiently accurate to indicate an interstellar trajectory.
The discovery is credited to Harvard University’s Amir Siraj, a student pursuing astrophysics, and Abraham Loeb, Jr. Professor of Science at Harvard University. They had published their findings in a preprint on axriv. The study was submitted to The Astrophysical Journal Letters but is yet to be peer-reviewed.
“I get a kick out of just thinking about the fact that we have interstellar material that was delivered to Earth, and we know where it is. One thing that I’m going to be checking—and I’m already talking to people about—is whether it is possible to search the ocean floor off the coast of Papua New Guinea and see if we can get any fragments,” Siraj told Vice.
Amir Siraj and Avi Loeb have also published studies around the Oumuamua that visited Earth in 2017 from outside the solar system and Comet Borisov which came from another star family. Oumuamua is on its trajectory that takes it into interstellar space, never to return again.
The delay in revealing the true nature of the meteor was cited to the methods used to detect incoming objects. According to reports, the sensors that picked up the fireball over Papua New Guinea are the same that also pick up nuclear detonations, making them strategically important for US defense.
“The atmosphere is already a sensor for these things. We’re just not paying attention to the signals. So we might as well use the whole atmosphere and see what comes our way,” Siraj further said.