Diary of an Interstellar Voyage, Report 32
(June 27, 2023)
This is our last research day on Silver Star before tomorrow’s departure. I will dearly miss the ocean adventure and the expedition team.
But the good news is that we delivered 43 babies over the past two weeks. These spherules are half a millimeter in size and a milligram in mass each. As molten droplets from a fireball, they carry information about the elemental and isotopic composition of the first recognized interstellar meteor, IM1. The association with IM1 was demonstrated by the fact that in our criss-cross survey, the spherules were found primarily along the most likely path of IM1 and not in control regions far away from this path. And most importantly, the locations will guide us in our next expedition to search for large relics left from IM1. Given IM1’s high speed and anomalous material strength, its source must have been a natural environment different from the solar system, or an extraterrestrial technological civilization.
In the early hours just before my jog at sunrise, I had five requests from reporters for comments about the expedition as it reached its conclusion. I made only general comments of the type that appeared in my essays so far, but refrained from any quantitative details until further analysis is done.
One of the reporters quoted a scientist saying that IM1 must be a fairly common, rocky meteoroid like known solar system rocks, because the US Government data does not agree with known fireball models and therefore the data must be wrong. The argument misses the point that interstellar objects may have material composition different from solar system rocks. Given that the US Space Command confirmed the interstellar origin of IM1 at the 99.999% confidence — the models used for solar system meteors may not capture the nature of IM1. In other words, the models may in fact be wrong rather than the data.
After all, we followed that government trajectory data for IM1 and found spherules along IM1’s reported path. The spherules retrieved will be stored at the Harvard College Observatory. We would not know IM1’s nature until further analysis is done with better diagnostics than we have on Silver Star. Experts on space rocks find it easier to imagine what we already know about the solar system and argue that the government data about IM1 must be wrong than to explore the unknown agnostically. If we do not allow for new things to be discovered, we will never find them. New knowledge is acquired only when old knowledge is regarded incomplete. An expert expressing an opinion about spherules that he had not seen is unprofessional.
I refrained from addressing these comments and told the reporter: “Anyone can say anything they want. We will analyze the materials in our possession with the best instruments in the world and report the results openly. Our first paper will focus on the data. The nature of IM1’s spherules is not a matter of opinion but of facts. Instead of correcting statements made by others, I prefer to focus on collecting those facts and reporting them in peer-reviewed journals.”
Shortly afterwards, a piece about the expedition was published by the BBC.
Aside from spherules, we recovered anomalous objects, such as a manganese-platinum wire, an iron peanut, an iron bean, as well as corroded iron shards — also retrieved during Run 24 this morning. We will study these anomalous items in great detail.
Altogether, the past two weeks constituted the most thrilling experience I had during my scientific career. The expedition marks the beginning of a new way of doing astronomy and studying what lies outside the solar system by using microscopes rather than telescopes. We already know that 83% of all matter in the Universe was not witnessed in the solar system. Perhaps there is more to that notion, as implied by the anomalous properties of IM1.
If so, the analysis of IM1’s material in the coming weeks will be a teaching moment for all of us.
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.