Scientists Plan a Magnetic Fishing Trip to Find a Meteor

In 2014, the first known meteor from outside of our Solar System crashed into the ocean near Papua New Guinea. It was one and a half feet wide, but broke up into smaller fragments. Scientists will attempt to bring pieces about 0.1 millimeter (about the thickness of a piece of paper) up from the ocean depths using magnets.

The researchers have narrowed down a search area that is roughly six miles by six miles. They will attach strong magnets to a sled about the size of a twin mattress. And then tow that behind a boat, dragging it along the seafloor. They estimate the cost of this expedition at $1.6 million, which is much lower than a mission to collect samples from the next interstellar object to pass nearby. 

Split screen of an artistic rendering of an asteroid entering Earth's atmosphere and Ian McKellen as Magneto wearing a dark cape and holding up his hand
Kevin Gill/20th Century Studios

Researchers at  Harvard’s Galileo Project studied the meteor, named CNEOS 2014-01-08, using NASA’s public database. They claimed it was traveling too fast to be from within our Solar System. The sun’s gravity enforces a speed limit of sorts. Peer review on that conclusion has not yet taken place. But the U.S. government’s  Space Command recently confirmed the likelihood that the meteor was interstellar.

We saw the news on Live Science. The scientists posted their plans on ArXiv (pronounced archive), which is a site where scientists share research papers before they’ve undergone peer review. 

Meteors are small pieces of asteroids or comets. Many crash into Earth every day, mostly breaking up in the atmosphere. Some burn bright and create a spectacle, like one in 2020 that was spotted by people in 15 states. They can even burn different colors depending on what the meteor is made up of. In 2031, the International Space Station will become one of these objects, when NASA retires it and sends it hurtling into the ocean.

Melissa is Nerdist’s science & technology staff writer. She also moderates “science of” panels at conventions and co-hosts Star Warsologies, a podcast about science and Star Wars. Follow her on Twitter @melissatruth. 

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