You Cannot Make Lemonade Without Lemons

Avi Loeb
4 min readJun 16

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Diary of an Interstellar Voyage: Part 9 (June 17, 2023)

Expedition team members pulling the magnetic sled after its second run through the Pacific Ocean site of the first recognized interstellar meteor, IM1. The timing coincided with a brief rainstorm. (June 17, 2023)

The Silver Star engine made its periodic breathing moan as Rob Millsap operated the winch to pull out the magnetic sled from the ocean floor for the second time through the localization box provided by the Department of Defense for the first recognized interstellar meteor, IM1.

At that moment, it occurred to me that we are adopting a rather primitive method for collecting meteorite fragments. But according to the proverbial phrase: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

Gladly, we already have one anomaly: a manganese-platinum wire with an abundance pattern that differs from common commercial products, as detailed in my previous report.

In the foreground, Avi Loeb waited with great anticipation for the delivery by the second run of the magnetic sled at IM1’s site.

While waiting for the new harvest, Rob McCallum told me that today is his birthday. His biggest wish for a birthday gift is an exotic delivery by the sled. The delivery table is ready. If this gift came all the way from interstellar space, it was a long time in the making.

Examining the sled for any interstellar materials from the second run.

Unfortunately, as soon as we examined both sides of the sled after its second IM1 run, we found it to be clean. Apparently, the sled did not touch the ocean floor, a fact confirmed by the video footage record of its cameras. The ocean was deeper than 2,150 meters and the lift by the cable tension kept it above the bottom of the ocean. Despite its mass of 200 kilograms, the sled behaved like a kite. Without getting to the bottom of the ocean, we cannot get to the bottom of the nature of IM1.

Using Bernoulli’s equation of fluid dynamics, I calculated the maximum lift that the sled could have experienced from ocean currents and found it to be negligible compared to gravity, given the mass of the sled. The primary challenge in getting the sled to the ocean floor stems from the drift in the motion of the ship relative to the sled and the resulting tension in the cable that connects the two.

Even before we watched the video, we could tell that the sled did not hit the ground because it did not collect any volcanic ash which constitute our background. The minimal signal should be that of the background and the sled was far too clean in its second run through IM1’s site.

We plan a third run today in the opposite direction, along with the flow of ocean currents to avoid a relative drift between the ship and the sled. Here’s hoping that this time around, the sled will deliver an interstellar birthday gift to Rob McCallum. No other ocean explorer deserved this honor more than he.

Rob Millsap just stopped by to tell me that we should get the sled out of the ocean at lunchtime. For now, I can go on my morning jog at sunrise on the deck of Silver Star as it pulls the sled for the ride, hopefully on the ocean floor.

Altogether, this disappointing experience provides an important lesson about the nature of scientific work. You cannot always get what you wish for, but without wishing — you will never discover anything. And for today, I only have one wish: `Happy birthday, Rob!’

From right: Rob McCallum and Avi Loeb on the deck of Silver Star.

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".