Did alien technology crash in Pacific in 2014? Harvard astronomer says ‘maybe’
2 examples of alien technology?
Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb is known for thinking out of the box. For example, in 2018, he suggested that ‘Oumuamua – the object from a distant solar system that’d passed near our sun the year before – might be alien technology. On April 20, 2022, in an article in The Debrief, Loeb suggested that a meteor known to have crashed in the Pacific Ocean in 2014, might also be technology from an alien civilization.
The meteor made news in mid-April 2022, when a memo from the U.S. Space Command confirmed that the object came from outside our solar system. Loeb, and fellow Harvard researcher Amir Siraj, argued in 2019, that the meteor might have an interstellar origin.
Now Loeb has taken it a step further and suggested that the meteor might not be a natural object but artificial. And he hopes to scour the ocean floor in search of it. As Loeb told EarthSky:
The likelihood of our finding extraterrestrial technological objects depends not just on whether extraterrestrials have sent them, but also on our willingness to look for them.
Loeb’s book about ‘Oumuamua is titled Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth.
Confirming the interstellar visitor
Loeb and Siraj wrote a paper in 2019, detailing their belief that the 2014 meteor had an interstellar origin. They were unable to publish it at the time because their findings relied on classified government data. But the U.S. Space Command tweeted a memo on April 6, confirming the object’s interstellar origins. If accurate, the meteor, which hit the ocean near Papua New Guinea on January 8, 2014, is the first known interstellar visitor.
As Loeb wrote in The Debrief:
The release of the confirmation letter is a watershed moment in which the government assists scientific progress by confirming the interstellar origin of this so-called CNEOS-2014-01-08 meteor at the 99.999% confidence.
Scientists estimate that CNEOS-2014-01-08, the formal name for the interstellar meteor that crashed into the ocean in 2014, was about a meter in size. Loeb says the Earth can act as a sort of “fishing net” for these interstellar objects.
Retrieving interstellar samples
While scientists would love to explore objects such as ‘Oumuamua further, Loeb points out that sending a mission to an interstellar visitor would cost billions of dollars. He compares it to the current return sample mission to solar system asteroid Bennu. He argues it would be much more cost efficient to retrieve a possible sample of the interstellar visitor from the ocean floor. Loeb wrote in The Debrief:
At a cost that is ten thousand times smaller, one could scoop fragments leftover from an interstellar meteor and study them in our laboratories.
Loeb imagines retrieving the samples from the ocean floor using a magnet. Researchers successfully used this method in 2018, off the coast of Washington state after a large meteorite fall there.
Loeb says they are currently designing a mission to explore the impact area off Papua New Guinea, which is about 4 square miles (10 square kilometers) and in waters about a mile (a couple kilometers) deep.
Could it be alien technology?
Then, Loeb lets his imagination run wild on what they might find. As he wrote in The Debrief:
The fundamental question is whether any interstellar meteor might indicate a composition that is unambiguously artificial in origin? Better still, perhaps some technological components would survive the impact. My dream is to press some buttons on a functional piece of equipment that was manufactured outside of Earth.
Why this meteor is different
What about the 2014 meteor, besides the fact that it may have an interstellar origin, would lead Loeb to believe it could be alien technology?
Loeb told EarthSky:
The interstellar meteor CNEOS-2014–01–08 appears to be rare both in composition (tougher than all known meteorites, including those made of iron) and in speed (faster than 95% of nearby stars relative to the sun). Yet, it was the first interstellar meteor detected through the light emitted by its fireball. Similarly, the first interstellar object detected through reflected sunlight, `Oumuamua, appeared anomalous relative to known comets and asteroids.
To study these anomalies, Loeb says we must retrieve the meteor fragments. Loeb continued:
Studying these fragments in a laboratory would allow us to determine the isotope abundances in CNEOS-2014–01–08 and check whether they are different from those found in solar system meteors. Altogether, anomalous properties of interstellar objects like CNEOS-2014–01–08 and `Oumuamua, hold the potential for revising conventional wisdom on our cosmic neighborhood.
Loeb also told EarthSky:
Some interstellar objects may be artificial in origin, representing technological equipment from alien civilizations just like the spacecraft we launched away from the solar system. They would appear like a plastic bottle swept ashore on the background of natural rocks. We do not know the composition or nature of the 2014 interstellar meteor. But we do know that NASA never launched an `Oumuamua-scale spacecraft, the size of a football field. However, it did launch many spacecraft on the scale of the 2014 interstellar meteor.
A Drake equation for archaeology of alien technology
Astronomer Frank Drake wrote a famous equation for trying to estimate how many communicative alien civilizations exist in the universe. It’s called the Drake equation. Avi Loeb has created his own equation for space archaeology. Loeb told EarthSky:
Extraterrestrial space archaeology is engaged with the search for relics of other technological civilizations … The senders may not be alive when we find the relics. These circumstances are different from those encountered by the famous Drake equation, which quantifies the likelihood of detecting radio signals from extraterrestrials. That case resembles a phone conversation in which the counterpart must be active when we listen. Not so in extraterrestrial archaeology.
Loeb explained his new equation to EarthSky:
What would be the substitute to Drake’s equation for space archeology? If our instruments survey a volume V, the number of objects we find in each snapshot would be:
… where n is the number of relics per unit volume. Suppose on the other hand that we have a fishing net of area A, like the atmosphere of the Earth when fishing meteors. In that case, the rate of new objects crossing the survey area per unit time is:
… where v is the characteristic one-dimensional velocity of the relics along the direction perpendicular to that area. Both n and v could be functions of the size of the objects. NASA launched many more small spacecraft than large ones. And it requires more energy to launch faster objects.
This all assumes that we are searching. But there is a probability O that some scientists or politicians might behave like an ostrich and avoid the search altogether. The final equations are therefore:
The likelihood of us finding extraterrestrial technological objects depends on us willing to look for them and not just on whether the extraterrestrials had sent them.
Bottom line: Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb speculates that the interstellar meteor that crashed into the Pacific Ocean in 2014 might be artificial instead of natural.