Is a rare interstellar object hiding at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean?

Is a rare interstellar object hiding at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean?

A priceless interstellar meteorite could rest at the bottom of the Pacific… but recovering it will be far from easy.

In 2014, a meteor crashed over the Pacific Ocean. At least one fragment, since baptized CNEOS 2014-01-08, survived atmospheric re-entry; it ended its course in the water near Papua New Guinea… and the researchers have not forgotten it. In a publication spotted by Universe Today, they explain that they even plan to launch a underwater expedition to get your hands on that rock.

You don’t need to have 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

Indeed, the Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) had at the time estimated its speed at around 60 kilometers per second; a velocity that seemed far too great for someone from the solar system. Several astronomers have therefore 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 wandering planets; in any case, these objects are therefore the actors of their own cosmic road-movies, and travel the universe alone.

If so, this would be quite exceptional news, because these visitors are not jostling at the gate. Indeed, so far, humanity has detected only two such objects in our solar system, namely 1I/ʻOumuamua in 2017 and 2I/Borissov. The object that fell in the Pacific would therefore only be the third representative of this category to venture so close to the Earth.

An artist’s impression of Oumuamua, the first interstellar object spotted in our cosmic neighborhood. © ESO/M. Kornmesser

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 remove the doubt. It is above all because the statements in question came from a satellite belonging to the American Department of Defense, an institution which has never hidden its pronounced taste for artistic blurring.

The performance of military satellites has traditionally been very important strategic elements; armies protect them like the apple of their eye. To avoid revealing too much information about their machine, the federal authorities have therefore decided to share only snippets of data with the researchers.

And while waiting to see more clearly, the scientific community still refuses to officially attribute the title of interstellar object to CNEOS 2014-01-08. It is partly for this reason that the research paper of the researchers who explored the possibility of this interstellar origin has not yet passed the course of peer review.

A submersible robot, like the one from Nauticus Robotics, could help researchers explore the ocean floor. © Nauticus Robotics Inc.

A scientific resource with incredible potential

Suffice to say that the gray areas are numerous, and the chances of success not really encouraging. But the mere idea of ​​power physically study the very 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 setting up such an expedition.

And that’s not an understatement. Because if it is indeed an interstellar object, it is not only a piece of rock that the specialists will track down. In essence, we would be dealing with a real cosmic relicfilled to the brim with information on areas and phenomena thatno human has ever had the opportunity to study so closely. The kind of object that could single-handedly significantly advance our understanding of the universe and the dynamics of the cosmos.

© Casey Horner – Unsplash

And to look for this needle in this huge haystack, the specialists will fortunately not leave empty-handed. The snippets of data provided by the US Space Force made it possible to reduce the search perimeter to an area of ​​approximately 100 km²; an area that is still large, certainly, but sufficiently restricted for there to be a non-negligible probability of finding a fragment.

Moreover, the researchers expect this object to be magnetic; a property that could greatly facilitate its detection, or even its recovery.

It will therefore 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 certainly be an important discovery in the history of astronomy.

The research paper that describes the expedition project is available here.