A meteor from another solar system may have hit Earth, and the implications are fascinating

 edition.cnn.com  04/17/2019 20:40:38  21

Think about it: An object, originating untold miles and millennia away, just plopping into the sea. The implications are as vast and mysterious as the wide open space from which it came.

A time capsule

Loeb and his co-author Amir Siraj studied the velocity of objects entering the Earth's atmosphere, which can be used to predict whether the object was traveling in relation to our sun's orbit.

"What we did was take the properties of the meteor and take the velocity at the time of impact and extrapolate whether it was bound to the sun or not," Loeb says. Of the three fastest objects on record, the fastest was clearly bound to our sun. The third-fastest couldn't be clearly categorized. But the second-fastest, Loeb says, bore all the hallmarks of being literally out of this solar system.

"At this speed, it takes tens of thousands of years for a object to move from one star to another," he says. Since they don't know exactly where it originated, they can't say exactly how old it is, but it could be downright ancient. "To cross the galaxy it would take hundreds of millions of years."

A potential sign of life

Of all of the possibilities wrapped up in this relatively small object, perhaps the most exciting is the idea that, theoretically, interstellar objects could carry life from other solar systems.

"Most importantly, there is a possibility that life could be transferred between stars," Loeb says. "In principle, life could survive in the core of a rock. Either bacteria, or tardigrades (a microscopic, water-dwelling animal); they can survive harsh conditions in space and arrive right to us."

Mindblowing? Just a little bit. And although the object detailed in this paper is the first recorded interstellar meteor to hit Earth, the study estimates such objects enter earth's atmosphere every ten years or so, which means there could be a million different interstellar objects floating around our solar system, just waiting to be examined.

You may remember a much larger interstellar asteroid was spotted in 2017 bouncing menacingly through our interplanetary neighborhood. The 1,300-foot-long space nugget, nicknamed "'Oumuamua," was an equally tantalizing discovery. After all, if a small space rock in the South Pacific can hold clues to what's happening across the universe, imagine what one almost a hundred times that size could tell us.
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