What a Wonderful World

Avi Loeb
4 min readJun 22, 2023

Diary of an Interstellar Voyage, Report 23 (June 23, 2023)

A new day has begun. Sunrise after an early morning jog by Avi Loeb on the deck of Silver Star (June 23, 2023).

On April 14, 2022, the Harvard Crimson magazine published a large feature article at this link about the Galileo Project and its expedition to the Pacific ocean to retrieve the relics of the first recognized interstellar meteor, IM1. The meteor moved faster than 95% of all stars in the vicinity of the Sun and survived under more extreme stress from friction on air than all 272 meteors in the CNEOS catalog of fireballs compiled by NASA over the past decade.

In the Crimson article a so-called “Harvard astrophysicist” who is in reality affiliated with the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, named Jonathan McDowell, is quoted as saying: “I’m just not optimistic that, as currently formulated, it’s going to be terribly scientifically productive,” he says. “That’s my take, but, you know, I’d love to be wrong.” The article went on to say: “McDowell agrees that there is some jealousy surrounding Loeb and the Galileo Project. He also believes that “there is a level at which the journalistic community should be a little more judicious and not just go for the clickbait of ‘Harvard professor says,’” but look into the kinds of research that garner less public attention.”

This morning, a conversation with the expedition team member and newly-minted scientist, Jason Kohn, reminded me of this article. I told Jason that I do not need to make my case in words. I can simply show the photo I took at 1AM last night of the new spherule unraveled by Ryan Weed. A photo is worth a thousand words. The spherical metallic marble looks like the Earth in the background mesh of spacetime. We were lucky to retrieve it from a depth of 2 kilometers at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean where it rested 9.5 years after arriving there on January 8, 2014. It is a molten relic that was created when the surface of IM1 was exposed to the extreme heat associated with entry to the lower atmosphere at 20 kilometers above the ocean surface. All I need to say now is: “What a wonderful world!”

A meteor spherule from Run 12 in the Pacific Ocean near the path of the first recognized interstellar meteor, IM1. It is reminiscent of the image of Earth with the background mesh representing spacetime.

That we were able to collect a sub-millimeter object from the bottom of the Pacific Ocean near Papua New Guinea near the fireball coordinates of IM1, is a testimony to the success of the scientific method despite the nay-sayers. I told one of them just a couple of weeks ago: “there is no need for you to criticize our expedition since we are not taking any funds away from you. Just sit back and relax. You could always say: `I did not expect you to succeed‘ in case we returned empty-handed.”

By now, we know that we will not be coming back empty-handed. We already found 11 metallic pearls of molten iron with shapes turned spherical by surface tension and friction on air, a common product of meteor fireballs. The spherules we discovered at the IM1 crash site are made mostly of iron and are definitely not biological in origin. Their non-existence in control regions away from IM1’s site, suggests that they are likely associated with IM1.

Upon my return, we will use the best instrumentation in the world to analyze the composition of these precious metallic pearls and date the duration of their journey in interstellar space through gamma-ray spectroscopy of their radioactive isotopes.

Multiplying the duration of the journey by the inferred velocity of IM1 outside the solar system, might allow us to circle the candidate stars from where IM1 may have originated. That feat was never possible in human history, because IM1 is the first large package that we had witnessed to be delivered at our doorstep from outside the solar system. Its materials are now in our possession.

What a wonderful world, indeed.

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.

--

--

Avi Loeb

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