- Photo by Daniel Olah on Unsplash
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By searching NASA’s Near Earth Object Database, researchers found a meteor that burned up in Earth’s atmosphere five years ago in the sky over the South Pacific.
Some background: Last year there was a lot of excitement about ‘Oumuamua, the first known object from outside our solar system to do a flyby of Earth. Some comments by researchers sparked some intense alien speculation (it’s not aliens y’all. Calm down.) This sighting prompted Avi Loeb from Harvard and colleagues to study the fastest near-Earth meteors to look for more objects that also had strange trajectories.
Faster movement can signal an object that isn’t tied to an orbit around the Earth. The object they spotted was about 90 meters wide and was travelling at about 60 km/s when it burned up in the Earth’s atmosphere in January 2014. This was the first clue to its possible interstellar origins.
Where it came from: In a recent arXiv paper, Loeb’s team said tracing the object’s orbit back in time shows that it might have come from the interior of another planetary system or star in the Milky Way. This would be the first known meteor to have made the trip from out of the solar system to Earth.
Of course, other meteors from outside our solar system may have visited in the past, but we just didn’t have the capacity to detect them at that point. In fact, the team predicts there is probably one a decade.
Why it matters: Better tracking and detection of objects like this before they burn up in the atmosphere could enable researchers to study the remnants of the objects, rather than just their paths years after they are gone for good.
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