Back in 2014, a fireball exploded in the skies over Papua New Guinea. At the time, scientists believed that the object was a small meteorite measuring around 1.5 feet across. It slammed into the Earth’s atmosphere at more than 130,000 mph (roughly 210,000 km/h). Because the object’s speed exceeded the average velocity of meteors found within our solar system, a group of scientists conducted a study on the object in 2019. They found that it was most likely the first interstellar object we had identified.
However, the group never published their paper in a peer-reviewed journal. Instead, it has been available in the preprint database arXiv since its publishing. The reasoning behind this delay is because the data needed to verify the study’s position The team argued that the meteor’s speed, as well as the trajectory that it traveled, proved that it had originated somewhere beyond our solar system.
Unfortunately, the scientists never had the paper reviewed by peers. That’s because the U.S. government considered the data needed to verify the claims classified. At least, until now.
USSC scientists confirm discovery of our first interstellar object
On April 6, 2022, Lt. Gen. John E. Shaw, the commander of the USSC, shared a memo on Twitter. The memo says that the analysis by the scientists in 2019 was “sufficiently accurate to confirm an interstellar trajectory.” That makes it the first interstellar object that we’ve identified to date.
It’s a huge step forward, and the confirmation retroactively makes the 2014 meteor even more important than it might have already been. In fact, it currently predates what we believed to be the first interstellar object, a comet named ‘Oumuamua. In fact, it predates it by almost three years.
Of course, there’s no telling what other kinds of interstellar objects are out there that we have yet to find. We still have a lot of space to explore, even inside our own solar system. As such, we could find other interstellar objects waiting to be discovered.
More from beyond our solar system
Of course, this isn’t the only interstellar object we have discovered so far. As noted above, scientists previously discovered ‘Oumuamua, a cigar-shaped object moving far too fast to have originated inside of our solar system. Unlike the meteor, though, ‘Oumuamua was spotted far from Earth. And, NASA says it is already speeding away from our solar system.
Scientists believe ‘Oumuamua is a comet because of how quickly it is moving, as well as how much it continued to accelerate on its own. However, because it is so far away from Earth, and moving outside of our solar system, it’s impossible to know for sure.
Still, knowing that there are interstellar objects entering our solar system from beyond the edges of space as we know it is both terrifying and exhilarating. As scientists continue to explore space and search for alien life, there’s no telling what we’ll find as our spacecraft branch out into the more unknown parts of our universe.