Diary of an Interstellar Voyage: Part 18 (June 21, 2023)
Today, we completed Run 10 through the center of the error box provided by the Department of Defense (DoD) for the location of the first recognized interstellar meteor, IM1. Previously, we focused Runs 1–9 on the most likely meteor path in the lower part of that box based on seismometer data.
As I approached the magnetic sled, laid fresh on the deck of Silver Star like a wet fish, I noticed a bent wire attached to one of its magnets, located in the back of the light side of the sled. A quick run of the wire through the X-ray Fluorescence (XRF) analyzer implied a composition typical of common industrial wires made of stainless steel. Ryan Weed summarized the XRF reading in one word: “background.”
Our expedition team members found other wire-like objects, but further analysis by Jeff Wynn confirmed that all of them have a biological origin as forams.
As we placed the various wires in dedicated vials, Rob McCallum asked: “what is this fascination with wires?” I explained: “electric wires are a generic techno-signature in interstellar objects.” Surely, we are looking at the mirror when we imagine alien technologies, but our own technologies are all we have to fuel our imagination thus far.
One can imagine other techno-signatures that would not be picked-up by magnets. As we were scraping the sled’s magnets, I received an email from the Israeli writer, Dror Burstein, who noted that it would be more interesting if our expedition were to retrieve an alien silicon chip or floppy drive. I replied that the expedition team is indeed planning on using a sluicing device in the coming days. If all goes well, this device will be able to separate high-density fragments from the background sand and volcanic ash, irrespective of the magnetic properties of these fragments.
It is also possible that dust particles from IM1 are hidden in the vast amount of black powder that we collected so far. Today, we will analyze a large quantity of the retrieved powder with our gamma-ray spectrometer to check whether there is any spectral anomaly relative to what is expected from volcanic ash.
Altogether, in our ten Runs of the magnetic sled, we have encountered steel shards only in Runs 6 and 7, delineating a fairly isolated geographic area not on a major shipping lane. These shards are not likely associated with a wreck because the spatial distribution is bigger than a wreck, and not trash or we would have seen it elsewhere.
Interestingly, there is abundant evidence in the sled videos for fairly recent volcanism. The ball of calcareous-siliceous clay that “painted” a corner of the sled on Run 3 was likely shaken loose by recent faulting in this volcanic area. Faulting and volcanism are often related in tectonic fracture zones like the one we survey. Mike Williamson noted that there is a topographic ridge immediately to the east of our target zone, and this appears to be an extension of New Ireland, a long, linear volcanic island.Following Run 10, we are now on our way to Manus Island to pick up three new team members, two of which are scientists: Professor Jim Lem from the University of Technology in Papua New Guinea and Amir Siraj with whom I discovered IM1, who will be starting graduate studies at Princeton University in fall 2023. They will be joined by Peter Smith who was tremendously helpful in coordinating the expedition and securing Silver Star for our scientific mission.
When embarking on a trip, it is usually the case that one transitions from living quarters to a travel vehicle. However, given that the ship is our current home and we carry our belongings everywhere like a turtle, the only transition associated with our trip to land is that the captain changed course.
The visit to Manus Island will provide a wonderful opportunity to learn from the wisdom of the local population. Given that no knowledge on extraterrestrials was gained in Run 10, we now have a chance to gain new terrestrial knowledge on the same day. Wires are not the only source of happiness in life.
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.