Fireball over Papua New Guinea: Interstellar meteor impact confirmed

Fireball over Papua New Guinea
Impact of interstellar meteorites confirmed

In 2014, a meteor made such waves that even the US Department of Defense got involved. Data on the celestial object was not released until eight years later. But what is the mysterious fireball?

It was a meteor that burned up in the Earth’s atmosphere on January 8, 2014. It was not extraordinary in itself, because it happens regularly. Rather, it was the incredibly high speed and origin that called US Space Command into action. At about 210,000 kilometers per hour, the meteor, which measured only about half a meter, plunged into the atmosphere over Papua New Guinea and burned there like a ball of fire.

This immense speed suggested that this celestial body could not have originated from our solar system, since objects in our solar system do not generally travel that fast. In retrospect, the meteor would also be the first recorded object to enter our solar system from interstellar space – even before the cigar-shaped Oumuamua. The latter only visited our solar system in 2017.

This meteor was examined by Amir Siraj, then a student and now an astrophysicist, and Professor Avi Loeb of Harvard University, who caused a stir with his research on Oumuamua. But information from NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) database was lacking to confirm the find. This monitors the skies for any danger from space, but is also used by the Ministry of Defense to detect possible nuclear explosions at an early stage. The data was still under lock and key and Siraj and Loeb could not get any confirmation of the sightings. It should take 8 years for the data to be published.

Late confirmation

In early March, the US Department of Defense confirmed the two scientists’ discovery in a memorandum. The memo was recently posted via short message service Twitter. Siraj now plans to republish his work for inspection so that other scientists can participate in the study of the extraordinary object.

And although the odds are extremely low, an expedition to the South Pacific cannot be ruled out, as Siraj explains to Vice magazine. However, this still needs to be discussed, as the chance of finding small parts on the seabed is negligible. It would probably be the first object from another star system in the hands of a human being.

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