The first known interstellar object most likely collided against our planet way back in 2014, new research has revealed. Professor Loeb, together with Amir Siraj, an undergraduate student at Harvard University have recently authored a new study saying that they may have detected the first interstellar collision.
In 2014, three years before the world was introduced to the mysterious object that was later named ‘Oumuamua, Earth was visited, and impacted by a relatively small object.
‘Oumuamua, which is a much larger and perhaps far more mysterious object was spotted as it made its way around the sun in 2017. Scientists eventually discovered that ‘Oumuamua came from another star, basing their conclusion on its trajectory and speed.
Now, they say that a 3-foot-wide space rock impacted Earth five years ago, and based on its trajectory, it probably originated not in our solar system, but from elsewhere in space. If confirmed, the small object would become the very first interstellar object that collided with Earth.
Interestingly, scientists say that such interstellar ‘travelers’ are likely common in space, and may have even helped seed like from star to star.
Professor Avi Loeb, the chair of astronomy at Harvard University and co-author of the study believes that such smaller objects are relatively common and may, in fact, collide from time to time against our planet without us even noticing it.
Professor Loeb argues that as many as 60 billion trillions of similarly sized rocks are launched outward by a single star, equal to about 0.2 to 20 times the mass of Earth.
After analyzing the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies‘ catalog of meteor events detected by U.S. sensors, the researchers picked out the fasted meteors recorded, since high speed means the object is less likely to be gravitationally bound to the sun, which may be a telltale sign that the object is not from this solar system.
As they made their way analyzing the data, they identified a mystery object about 3 feet (0.9 meters) wide, detected by sensors on Jan. 8, 2014, as the object soared above an altitude of 11.6 miles (18.7 kilometers) passing just above a point near Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island in the South Pacific. Given the relatively small size of the object, it disintegrated as it soared through the sky, which means that we won’t be able to study its composition, which might help us understand where it came from.
As it approached the Earth, the interstellar visitor was traveling at a speed of approximately 134,200 mph (216,000 km/h), and based on its trajectory, the experts concluded it most likely traveled a long way from a distant alien star.
Speaking to Space.com, Professor Loeb revealed that “We can use the planet’s atmosphere as the detector for these meteors, which are too small to otherwise see.”
Loeb and Siraj argue that the velocity of the object tells us that it most likely received a massive gravitational boost as it approached our solar system, either from the deep interior of a planetary system or from a star somewhere in the Milky Way.