The US Space Command has confirmed that the first meteor from outside the solar system has hit Earth

An asteroid is a rocky object in space that is smaller than a planet. Meteoroids are smaller space rocks than asteroids and can range from the size of a speck of dust to a large boulder. When a meteoroid enters the Earth’s atmosphere and burns up, it becomes a meteor. Larger meteoroids can sometimes survive passage through Earth’s atmosphere before completely burning up and scattering debris that makes it to the planet’s surface. When this happens, they become meteorites. With those definitions established, US Space Command confirmed that a 2014 meteor was the first recorded interstellar object to enter Earth’s atmosphere.

NASA constantly tracks space objects to detect possible collision paths with Earth (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

In October 2017, scientists discovered what was believed to be the first interstellar object to enter our solar system. The object, named 1I/’Oumuamua, was about 400 meters long and shaped like a fire extinguisher. While the origin of the single object most likely came from outside the solar system, Dr. Amir Siraj and Dr. Abraham Loeb of Harvard University’s Department of Astronomy determined that an earlier meteor was in made the first interstellar object in our solar system.

In 2014, a meteor designated CNEOS 2014-01-08 crossed the sky near Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. At just 1 meter in diameter, the meteor has mostly burned up with very few meteorites scattered over the Pacific Ocean. The meteor was observed and added to a public database by NASA and the DOD. After eight months of studying Oumuamua, Siraj and Loeb consulted this database and realized that the Manus Island meteor in 2014 might be an even older interstellar object.

The US Space Command has confirmed that the first meteor from outside the solar system has hit Earth
An artist’s concept by Oumuamua (European Southern Observatory/M. Kornmesser)

According to scientific research, a celestial object traveling at over 42 kilometers per hour could come from outside the solar system. With the Manus Island meteor in 2014 hitting Earth’s atmosphere at around 45 kilometers per second, Siraj and Loeb were confident of their discovery. The certainty was heightened after the duo conferred with other scientists. However, the accuracy of the data collected by the government could only be confirmed by an anonymous source through a private conversation. To formalize their discovery, Siraj and Loeb needed an official memo.

The US Space Command has confirmed that the first meteor from outside the solar system has hit Earth
The official Space Command memo confirming the interstellar object (US Space Command)

In 2022, scientists got the official recognition they were looking for. On March 1, US Space Force Deputy Commander Lt. Gen. John E. Shaw signed a memo to NASA confirming Siraj and Loeb’s findings. The memo was also signed by Space Force Space Operations Command chief scientist Dr. Joel Mozer. “I had the pleasure of signing a memo with @ussfspocChief Scientist Dr. Mozer to confirm that a previously detected interstellar object was indeed an interstellar object, a confirmation that has helped the wider astronomical community,” read a tweet from US Space Command.

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