A Packed Session on Exciting Science

Avi Loeb
3 min readMar 14, 2024

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Collection of materials from the magnetic sled during the Interstellar Expedition on the ship Silver Star. From left to right: Avi Loeb, Charles Hoskinson, Ryan Weed and Jeff Wynn (June 2023).

According to an excellent new report by Nature magazine, the Harvard graduate student Hairuo Fu gave a brilliant presentation on March 12, 2024 at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) in the Woodlands, Texas. The lecture room was packed with more attendees than for any other talk, when Hairuo presented the findings of our research team which analyzed meteoritic materials collected in an expedition to the Pacific Ocean.

The talk focused on facts, starting with the following bullet points:

The event:

· U.S. government satellite sensors detected on 8 January 2014 three atmospheric detonations in rapid succession, about 90 kilometers north of Manus Island, outside the territorial waters of Papua New Guinea.

· A 500-kilogram bolide arrived with a velocity relative to Earth of more than 45 kilometers per second and broke apart at an altitude of about 20 kilometers.

· In 2022, the U.S. Space Command issued a formal letter to NASA certifying a 99.999% likelihood that the object was interstellar in origin.

An expedition was conducted:

· Mounted from Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, to search for remnants of the bolide (labeled CNEOS 2014–01–08 or IM1), during June 14–28, 2023.

· A 200-kilogram sled was used with 300 neodymium magnets mounted on the ship M/V Silver Star and video cameras mounted on the tow-bridle.

Spherules were hand-picked:

· The fine material was sieved and dried.

· About 850 specimens (up to 1.3 millimeters in size) were hand-picked with tweezers using a binocular zoom microscope.

Measurements were performed:

· Micro-X-ray fluorescence analysis for 750 spherules, ICP-MS mass spectroscopy analysis for 68 spherules.

The magnetic sled survey exploring IM1’s path resulted in 850 magnetic particles (consisting mostly of spherules) of diameters within the range of 0.1–1.3 millimeters through 26 runs surveying 0.06 square kilometers. Four distinct groups of primitive spherules were identified (S-type, G-type, I-type high Ni, I-type low-Ni) for 78 % of the collected spherule population. We also identified a substantial fraction (22%) of the spherules as being derived from igneous precursors, which we label as “D-type” spherules. A small portion of the D-type spherules show extremely strong enrichment of refractory lithophile elements such as Be, La and U, which we label as “BeLaU-type” spherules.

The “BeLaU”-type spherules are extremely depleted in moderately volatile elements, such as K and Mn, in addition to highly volatile elements being low, suggesting evaporative loss.

The “BeLaU”-type samples reflect a highly differentiated, extremely evolved composition, of an unknown origin.

The world-renowned geochemist, Professor Stein Jacobsen, told the Nature reporter, Alexandra Witze: “As you can see, there is nothing controversial about this presentation. It is all based on facts and excellent measurements of the recovered materials. Unfortunately, there are some people spreading misinformation and trying to make it sound like the presentation will be controversial. Please don’t be confused by them.” When the exceptional geologist, Dr. Jeff Wynn, expressed frustration about unsubstantiated criticism, I told him: “One way to approach unfair criticism with a peace of mind is to say that those who do not get it, are not the people you want to be friends with.”

I congratulated Hairuo for his excellent presentation and paraphrased Frank Sinatra’s song about New York: “If you can make it there (at LPSC), you’ll make it anywhere.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Image credit: Chris Michel (October 2024)

Avi Loeb is the head of the Galileo Project, founding director of Harvard University’s — Black Hole Initiative, director of the Institute for Theory and Computation at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and the former chair of the astronomy department at Harvard University (2011–2020). He is a former member of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and a former chair of the Board on Physics and Astronomy of the National Academies. He is the bestselling author of “Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth” and a co-author of the textbook “Life in the Cosmos”, both published in 2021. His new book, titled “Interstellar”, was published in August 2023.

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Avi Loeb

Avi Loeb is the Baird Professor of Science and Institute director at Harvard University and the bestselling author of “Extraterrestrial” and "Interstellar".