Diary of an Interstellar Voyage: Part 13 (June 18, 2023)
For our IM1 expedition, the saying: “never judge a book by its cover” means that we should not reach conclusions about the materials we retrieved in Runs 4 & 5 from the likely crash site of the first recognized interstellar meteor, IM1, based on appearance.
After my last report about the white fresh coat returned by the sled on Run 5, I was troubled by the statistical conclusion that there may be roughly a hundred buckets of white paint trashed per square kilometer on the ocean floor. It also did not make sense that the abundance of paint buckets would be equal to that of brad nails.
Ryan Weed and Jeff Wynn resolved my puzzlement. They used the X-ray fluorescence (XRF) analyzer to find the compositions of the retrieved materials. First, they confirmed that the brad nail was made mostly of a commercially common alloy of iron. Second, they have found that the white liquid substance on the sled was not paint but rather a calcareous siliceous ooze which is biological in origin, containing mainly Ca, SiO2, Al2O3, Fe, and MgO. Siliceous ooze is a type of pelagic sediment, made by silica-based skeletons of microscopic marine organisms, making about 15% of the deep ocean floor. Siliceous oozes near continental margins may also include terrestrially derived silica particles and sponge spicules. The white sphere into which the sled bumped must have been made of this ooze.
The biogenic material we recovered as fragments was Planktonic debris that dropped to the seafloor after it died. The forams are benthic and live on the seafloor.
Other than the biological materials, most of the black powder mass we collected appears to be a background of volcanic ash.
Paradoxically, Runs 4 & 5 brought much more material than we had before but all of it has mundane explanations. This realization carried a great benefit: we now have a better understanding of the background and can identify outliers in future samples.
In the expedition team meeting we decided to keep doing what we are doing and collect large samples of materials from the ocean floor in many more lines that criss-cross the localization box provided by the US Department of Defense for IM1.
The beauty of science is that things fall into place and eventually make sense. We will keep searching for new knowledge in the form of anomalies in the backdrop of the vast background of what makes sense.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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 chairs the advisory board for the Breakthrough Starshot project, and 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”, is scheduled for publication in August 2023.