The fireball that exploded in the skies over Papua New Guinea in 2014 was actually a rapidly moving object from another star system, according to a recent note released by the US Space Command (USSC).
The object, a small meteorite only 0.45 meters in diameter, crashed into the Earth’s atmosphere on January 8, 2014 after traveling in space at speeds in excess of 210,000 km/h – a speed well above the average for meteors orbiting the solar system, according to a 2019 object study published in the arXiv preprint database .
This 2019 study claimed that the speed of a small meteor, along with the trajectory of its orbit, proved with 99% confidence that the object originated far beyond our solar system. But, despite almost complete certainty, the researchers’ article was never reviewed or published in a scientific journal, as some of the data needed to verify the calculations were considered classified by the US government.
6/ “I had the pleasure of signing a memo with @ussfspoc’s Chief Scientist, Dr. Mozer, to confirm that a previously-detected interstellar object was indeed an interstellar object, a confirmation that assisted the broader astronomical community.” pic.twitter.com/PGlIOnCSrW
— U.S. Space Command (@US_SpaceCom) April 7, 2022
Now USSC scientists have officially confirmed the findings of the team. In a note dated March 1 and posted on Twitter on April 6, Lieutenant General John E. Shaw, Deputy Commander of the USSC, wrote that the analysis of the 2019 fireball was “accurate enough to confirm the interstellar trajectory.”
This confirmation in retrospect makes the 2014 meteor the first interstellar object ever discovered in our solar system, the note added. According to the USSC, the discovery of the object for three years preceded the discovery of Oumuamua interstellar comet, which is also moving too fast for our solar system. But unlike the 2014 meteor, Oumuamua was discovered far from Earth and is already flying out of the solar system, according to NASA.
Amir Siraj, an astrophysicist-theorist at Harvard University and lead author of the 2019 article, told Vice that he still intends to publish the original research so that the scientific community can continue from where he and his colleagues stopped. As the meteorite erupted over the South Pacific, it is possible that its fragments fell into the water and have been on the seabed ever since.
Although finding these fragments of interstellar debris can be an almost impossible task, Siraj said he is already consulting with experts on the possibility of organizing an expedition to find them.