Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust

Avi Loeb
4 min readJun 17, 2023

Diary of an Interstellar Voyage: Part 10 (June 17, 2023)

Expedition team members pulling the magnetic sled after its third run through the Pacific Ocean site of the first recognized interstellar meteor, IM1. (June 17, 2023)

During my early morning jog on the deck, I witnessed how the magnetic sled is being pulled along by our ship, Silver Star, in the third run through the Pacific Ocean site of the first recognized interstellar meteor, IM1. Art Wright was standing a few feet away from me, making sure that the winch cable is oriented properly so as to enhance the chance of the sled lying on the ocean floor.

Ryan Weed waiting for his morning coffee in anticipation of run 3 through IM1’s site.

By lunchtime, the sled was brought back to deck. I was excited to examine its harvest. The presence of additional manganese-platinum wires in IM1’s site but not in control regions, could potentially establish a techno-signature if the material came from interstellar space.

During the pullout of the sled, Rob Millsap asked me to hold the winch handle for him. I assured him: “Sure, I am not a nerd. I am used to heavy machinery as I was born on a farm.”

Searching the sled magnets for particles. From left to right in the lower image: J.J. Siler, Jason Kohn, Ryan Weed, Charles Hoskinson and Avi Loeb.

Alas, the heavy side of the sled showed mainly volcanic ash on the rims of its strong neodymium magnets but it spent only 11 minutes on the ocean floor. Our main challenge is that the tension in the cable had a vertical component stronger than gravity and made the sled fly like a kite. One way to avoid the “kite effect” is to add mass to the sled, which we plan to do in the next run. Another approach is to add mass in front of the sled, so as to lower the vertical tension of the cable on the sled. Finally, we could change the pivot point where the sled connects to the cable to be closer to the center of mass rather than the front of the sled.

Harvest of the third run through IM1’s localization box. The elongated black object, foram, is biological in origin. The rest are volcanic ash and sand particles trapped on the magnets.

The path of the third run went at an angle relative to our first IM1 run and did not spend much time at the most likely path of the meteor. After scooping the ash from the sled magnets, I met with Rob Millsap and Art Wright in the Muster Station and suggested that we plan our fourth run closer to the likely IM1 path. Just as in real estate, the success of our search depends on three things: “location, location and location.”

Two frames from the video cameras on the sled, showing touchdown on the ocean floor in the third run of IM1’s site.

The video footage from the sled cameras showed that the sled spent 11 minutes at the ocean floor, but only on its heavy side — consistent with the trapped ash locations. For now, our analysis shows mostly volcanic ash. The transition from the control regions to run 3 can be summarized in terms of the sober biblical cycle: from ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Expedition team meeting at the ship’s upper floor, to discuss the strategies for keeping the sled on the ocean floor and avoiding the “kite effect.”

Shortly after the harvest from run 3, I had a video session with the Event Horizon podcast of John Michael Godier. For viewing details, click here.

During our team meeting to discuss sled strategies for avoiding the “kite effect,” Rob McCallum referred to Art Wright as “old school.” Art asked me what it means, and I explained: “It means that you are reliable.” Art assured me that we will visit the most likely path of IM1 in the fourth run which just started, and I trust we will.

Hopefully, our future sled runs will be marked by a more uplifting transition: from volcanic ashes to technological debris from interstellar space. The verdict as to whether this transition exists lies at a depth of 2 kilometers under Silver Star. It has been there since January 8, 2014. We now have the first opportunity to find it as long as we can keep the sled on the ocean floor.

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.

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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".