Astronomers have confirmed that a suspicious space rock that hit Earth in 2014 came from another star system, predating famous interstellar visitor ‘Oumuamua by three years.
Researchers found the meteor in the catalog from NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) in 2019. At that time, however, some of the rock’s trajectory data was kept secret by the US Department of Defense (DoD), whose sensors collected it .
But in March this year, the DoD issued a statement confirming the measurements, allowing scientists to complete their calculation of the origin of the mysterious rock.
The mini-3 feet wide (0.9 meters)asteroidwho entered earth’s atmosphere on January 8, 2014, arrived at a very fast speed of 134,200 mph (216,000 km/h). It also followed an odd trajectory, suggesting it may have come from outside the solar system. By modeling the rock’s trajectory in the past and assessing its gravitational interactions with planets in the solar system, the authors of the new paper confirmed that the tiny asteroid was, indeed, a newcomer to the world. Sunthe corner of the Milky Way galaxy.
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The confirmation makes the rock, named CNEOS 2014-01-08, the earliest known visitor to interstellar space, predating the famous 650-foot-wide (200 m) asteroid’Oumuamua which streaked past Earth in 2017. Only a year later, astronomers discovered the second interstellar object, the 1,650-foot-wide (0.5 km) Comet Borisov. The short interval between these discoveries led astronomers to believe that smaller interstellar rocks, only a few feet or tens of feet wide, must be much more common in the solar system and even regularly cross paths with our planet.
That’s why the authors of the new paper, famed Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb and his colleague Amir Siraj, set out to scour the CNEOS catalog. In addition to CNEOS 2014-01-08, they found another promising meteor, for which the necessary data is however still classified. This space rock carved out the Earth’s atmosphere in March 2017.
Researchers believe that interstellar space rocks could hit Earth’s atmosphere about once a decade. Analysis of these meteors, the researchers suggest in the paper, could provide new insights into the chemistry of star systems.
“By extrapolating each meteor’s trajectory through time and analyzing the relative abundances of each meteor’s chemical isotopes, one can match meteors to their parent stars and reveal information about planetary system formation,” the authors said. in the paper (opens in a new tab). “[Some chemical] elements can be detected in the atmospheres of stars, so their abundances in meteor spectra can serve as important links to parent stars.”
Because most meteoroids burn up in the atmosphere before reaching the Earth’s surface, and because recovering those that do takes an inordinate amount of time and technically difficultthe researchers propose to create a global network of cameras capable of performing spectroscopic measurements, analyzes of the light absorption fingerprints of arriving space rocks that could reveal their chemical composition.
CNEOS 2014-01-08 exploded over the ocean near Papua New Guinea, Siraj told Space.com in an email, and scientists believe some pieces of rock may have survived the trip through Earth’s atmosphere and fell into the sea. Siraj and Loeb are planning an expedition to try and recover some of the fragments next year.
The researchers also suggest that such a high frequency of interstellar visitors throughout Earth’s history could mean that the seeds of life that germinated on our planet over the past 3.5 billion years could have come from another star system.
The study (opens in a new tab) was published Nov. 2 in Astrophysical Journal.
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