According to a recently released document from the United States Space Command, researchers discovered an interstellar meteor hit Earth in 2014. An interstellar meteor is a space rock that originated from outside of our solar system, making it extremely rare for any of them to make contact with our planet.
CNEOS 2014-01-08 is the name of the meteor that crashed along the northeast coast of Papua New Guinea on January 8th, 2014 (hence the numbers in the name).
Amir Siraj identified the object as an interstellar meteor in 2019 when he co authored a study as an undergraduate at Harvard University. Initially, Siraj was investigating “Oumuamua,” the first known interstellar object in our solar system that was found in 2017.
Siraj was performing the study with Harvard professor of science Abraham Loeb. Siraj was going through NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies database to potentially find other interstellar objects and was able to find the 2014 meteor within days.
Siraj was able to conclude that the object was indeed an interstellar meteor based on the high velocity of it when it hit Earth. The meteor was moving at a high speed of 28 miles per second, for reference the Earth is currently moving around the sun at a speed of 18.6 miles per second.
After mapping out the meteor’s trajectory, Siraj found that at its highest speed, the meteor was moving at about 37.3 miles per second in relation to the sun. He used this to determine that the meteor was in an unbound orbit before crashing into Earth, meaning it came from outside our solar system.
“Presumably, it was produced by another star, got kicked out of that star’s planetary system and just so happened to make its way to our solar system and collide with Earth.”
John Shaw, deputy commander of the US Space Command, which is part of the US Department of Defense, was able to confirm that the object was in fact an interstellar meteor after reviewing the findings in the study.
“Dr. Joel Mozer, the Chief Scientist of Space Operations Command, the United States Space Force service component of U.S. Space Command, reviewed analysis of additional data available to the Department of Defense related to this finding. Dr. Mozer confirmed that the velocity estimate reported to NASA is sufficiently accurate to indicate an interstellar trajectory,” wrote Shaw.
Initially, Siraj and Loeb weren’t able to get their findings published or confirmed from NASA due to the database it came from. So much time had passed since they contacted NASA for confirmation, that Siraj even moved on to other studies so he wouldn’t get his hopes up to high.
“I thought that we would never learn the true nature of this meteor, that it was just blocked somewhere in the government after our many tries, and so actually seeing that letter from the Department of Defense with my eyes was a really incredible moment,” Siraj said.
Now that Loeb and Siraj have their confirmation, their team is working to resubmit all their findings for publication to explain in greater detail the significance of this discovery.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.