When the interstellar object 'Oumuamua was discovered back in 2017, it set the astronomy world abuzz. Scientists had never seen anything like this before — an object from another solar system — and its odd cigar-shape and bizarre features raised eyebrows. Some even theorized that it might be an alien probe.
Now some of the researchers who studied 'Oumuamua have announced another mind-blowing discovery: a possible extrasolar object that actually struck Earth back in 2014, reports Phys.org.
If their hypothesis about this object turns out to be correct, it will be the first known collision of an object from another star system ever to impact our planet. Even more astonishing, researchers believe there's a remote possibility that this object carried evidence of alien life along with it.
Amir Siraj and Abraham Loeb of Harvard University discovered this object on a hunch while scanning through the Center for Near-Earth Object database. They thought they might be able to discover other interstellar visitors to our solar system if they narrowed their search to only objects that traveled faster than normal. One of the features that made 'Oumuamua particularly bizarre, for instance, was the unusual speed at which it moved.
Sure enough, the database contained a few hits, one of which was especially eye-popping because the object had been recorded disintegrating in Earth's atmosphere on Jan. 8, 2014, at a height of 18.7 kilometers over Papua New Guinea.
When Siraj and Loeb traced the speed and trajectory of this object backwards, it led to extrasolar space.
The object would have only been about a meter thick, so it wasn't large, and very little of it, if any, would have survived entry through the atmosphere. Still, there's a chance that fragments of it could be hiding somewhere on Papua New Guinea.
Here's where things get really interesting (not to mention, highly speculative). Because of this object's unusually high speed, odds are that it was flung from deep within its home star system. In other words, there's a chance it came from its star's "Goldilocks zone," or the zone where liquid water, and thus life, might have been present.
It's worth reiterating that this theory is a wild long shot. But if we ever did find fragments of an extrasolar object that landed on Earth and contained evidence of alien life, it would be a discovery of unfathomable import. For this reason alone, it's worth speculating about. Even if it didn't contain any evidence of life, getting our hands on an interstellar object would be pretty special, to say the least.
There are a lot of "ifs" about this object, not to mention extremely low odds of ever finding fragments of it that survived complete disintegration in our atmosphere. Its discovery nevertheless opens our eyes to the possibility of finding other objects like it that might have struck Earth sometime in the past, or that might strike it in the future. And if nothing else, that's great fodder for our scientific imaginations.