Chemical Composition of Unfamiliar Origin from the Pacific Ocean Site of the IM1 Meteor

Avi Loeb
5 min readMar 8, 2024
Differentiated spherules include the “BeLaU”-type in the two examples on the right-hand-side.

On January 8, 2014, US government satellites detected a fireball from a meteor, labeled IM1, that was moving faster than needed to escape the solar system. The fireball location was reported by the US government in the CNEOS Fireball Catalog to tenth-of-a-degree precision at latitude and longitude: 1.3S, 147.6E and an altitude of about 20 kilometers. After a careful reanalysis of the data from multiple sensors, the interstellar origin of IM1 was certified in an official letter from the US Space Command to NASA, dated March 1, 2022. The meteor light curve showed three detonations which — given the duration and IM1 speed — spread the debris across a region larger than 11 kilometers, the size of the localization box provided by the US Department of Defense (DoD).

In June 2023, I served as the Chief Scientist on an expedition coordinated by Rob McCallum of EYOS Expeditions to IM1’s site in the Pacific Ocean. The expedition team conducted 26 runs with a magnetic sled through and around the DoD localization box. We retrieved fragments that were subsequently analyzed in the laboratories of Professor Stein Jacobsen at Harvard University and Dr. Roald Tagle at the Bruker Corporation in Berlin, Germany.

In an unrefereed preprint and an accompanying press release, Ben Fernando and collaborators argue today that the localization of IM1 is highly uncertain based on public seismometer data alone. The authors ignore the DoD localization data and claim that based on seismometer data alone, IM1’s localization is unknown within a much larger region. There is nothing one could say to people who choose to dismiss reliable DoD information. Our team based IM1’s localization primarily on the DoD box. The seismometer data from Manus Island in Papua New Guinea was used in a peer-reviewed paper I published with Amir Siraj to refine and validate the confidence region. Our model constrained IM1’s path to an arc at a particular distance from Manus Island. This arc did not only overlap with the DoD localization box for the arrival time of the seismometer signal, but also gave an altitude consistent with the US Government value of about 20 kilometers. We found that data from other seismometers farther away, does not provide meaningful constraints, whereas the new preprint uses the large uncertainties from these other seismometers to claim that the fireball could have been anywhere across a large region if we were to ignore the DoD localization data. But why should we selectively ignore data which accompanied the discovery of this meteor?

Our 26 runs extended over a search area of 10–20 kilometers in size around the DoD box. The expedition recovered 850 spherules (molten droplets) in the size range of 0.1–1.3 millimeters from the ocean floor, out of which about a tenth of the spherules were found to have a unique chemical composition, never reported before for solar system materials. This unique chemical abundance pattern shows extremely high abundances (up to a thousand times higher than in the primordial solar-system material) of Beryllium, Lanthanum and Uranium, labeled as a never-seen-before “BeLaU”-type composition. The loss of volatile elements from the “BeLaU”-type spherules is consistent with IM1’s airburst in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Our research team’s analysis of 60 elements from the periodic table shows that these spherules are not coal ash, and did not originate from the crust of the Earth, the Moon or Mars. The “BeLaU”-type abundance pattern is unprecedented in the scientific literature and could have originated from differentiation in a magma ocean on an exo-planet with an iron core.

The abundances of refractory lithophile elements in the “BeLaU”-type spherules, normalized by the standard composition of the primordial material that made the solar system.

Electron microscope images of the “BeLaU”-type spherules display lopsided massive composites, indicating mergers of small spherules within the fireball volume, resembling the images of spherules reported last month from a meteor airburst in Antarctica.

The high speed, inferred population of IM1-like interstellar meteors, and the unique “BeLaU”-type composition, can all be explained by tidal disruption of rocky exoplanets near dwarf stars, as I had shown in a new paper (linked here) with my postdoc, Morgan MacLeod, that was accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed Journal, Astronomy and Astrophysics.

The extensive expedition team’s paper (linked here) was submitted to a peer-reviewed journal, following on the publication of two research notes (linked here and here).

Curiosity-driven science should follow on evidence, not opinions. And collecting the evidence involves hard work. We are currently planning our next expedition in search for bigger pieces of the meteor, as were recovered in the debris field of the 2024 BX1 meteor observed over Berlin on January 20, 2024. Finding pieces that carry grams of material from IM1 will allow our research team to trace abundances of volatile elements in IM1, to find the age of IM1’s material through radioactive dating, and most importantly to reveal the structure and nature of this mysterious object.

Science is exciting as long as one is willing to follow the facts, especially if the facts are provided by the US Space Command in DoD, which is funded at an annual budget of 30 billion dollars to protect the US from ballistic missiles launched by adversarial countries. That the research team at the US Space Command took time away from its busy day job to certify academic information of interest to astronomers should be applauded and not ridiculed. The astronomers who dismiss the DoD data and argue that it must be entirely wrong, should lose sleep at night because their mistrust implies that their safety is not secured and their taxes are wasted on an unreliable national security infrastructure.


Image credit: Chris Michel (October 2023)

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.



Avi Loeb

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