After spending years studying the night skies for signs of extraterrestrial life, Harvard University astrophysicist Avi Loeb believes he has found proof of their existence at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.
Professor Loeb has just completed a $1.5m expedition searching for signs of a mysterious meteor dubbed IM1 that crashed off the coast of Papua New Guinea in 2014 and is believed to have come from interstellar space.
The 61-year-old told The Independent he oversaw a team of deep-sea explorers who found 50 tiny spherules, or molten droplets, using a magnetic sled that was dropped from the expedition vessel the Silver Star 2km underneath the surface of the ocean.
He believes the tiny objects, about half a millimetre in size, are most likely made from a steel-titanium alloy that is much stronger than the iron found in regular meteors.
Further testing was now required, but Prof Loeb believes they either have interstellar origins, or have been made by an advanced extraterrestrial civilization.
Prof Loeb chaired Harvard’s astronomy department from 2011 to 2020 and now leads the university’s Galileo Project, which is establishing open-sourced observatories across the world to search for signs of UFOs and interstellar objects.
He has long courted controversy for his trenchant belief that aliens have visited Earth.
In his bestselling 2021 book Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth, Prof Loeb argued that ‘Oumuamua — a pancake-shaped space rock about the size of a football field which was visible to scientists for 11 days in 2017 — could only have been an interstellar technology built by aliens.
His ideas have set him at odds with much of the scientific community. But the unapologetic scientist dubbed the “alien hunter of Harvard” tells The Independent that his naysayers are “arrogant” to dismiss his findings.
The objects will now be taken back to Harvard for testing to confirm their make-up. But for Prof Loeb, the “miracle” discovery is further vindication that his unorthodox methods are bearing fruit.
His quest began in 2019, when IM1 caught the attention of his research team as they combed NASA’s open-source catalogue of meteors for irregular space rock detected around the Earth.
IM1 stood out for its high velocity — it travelled faster than 95 per cent of nearby stars — and the fact it had exploded much lower in the Earth’s atmosphere than most meteors.
“The object was tougher than all (272) other space rocks recorded in the same NASA catalogue, it was an outlier of material strength,” Prof Loeb told The Independent.
He and his Harvard colleague Amir Siraj calculated with 99.999 per cent confidence that IM1 had travelled to Earth from another star.
The pair initially had their paper rejected for publication in an academic journal, and were stymied from gaining access to key classified US Government data about IM1.
Then in April last year, the US Space Force wrote to NASA to say that the chief scientist of the US Space Operations Command had confirmed IM1’s velocity was “sufficiently accurate” to indicate it had come from interstellar space.
Using a combination of Department of Defense data and seismology readings, Prof Loeb was able to calculate a rough area where debris from IM1 had fallen.
From there, he was able to pinpoint the meteor’s most likely path as it exploded and shed its payload.
With $1.5m in funding from US entrepreneur Charles Hoskinson, the founder of blockchain company Cardano, Prof Loeb assembled what he describes as the best team of ocean explorers in the world.
This included Rob McCallum, the founder of EYOS Expeditions and a former OceanGate Expeditions consultant who had tried to raise the alarm about the doomed Titan submersible with its CEO Stockton Rush in 2018.
In mid-June, Prof Loeb set out from his home in Connecticut bound for Papua New Guinea.
Days earlier, former US Air Force intelligence officer David Grusch went public with claims that a Department of Defense UFO Task Force was withholding information about a secretive UFO retrieval program and is in possession of “non-human” spacecraft.
“It’s easier to seek extraterrestrial facts on the Pacific Ocean floor than get them from the government,” Prof Loeb wrote in an expedition journal on Medium at the time.
He noted that opinion among the general public towards the possibility of alien life was shifting.
An ‘interstellar expedition’
On 14 June, the Silver Star expedition vessel set out for the meteor’s estimated landing zone in the Pacific Ocean about 84km north of Manus Island, Papua New Guinea.
“There are about 850 spoken languages in Papua, the most linguistically diverse place on Earth,” Prof Loeb wrote on Medium. “Yet, if the expedition recovers a gadget with an extraterrestrial inscription, we will add a new language to this site.”
After reaching the site, the crew dropped a one-metre wide magnetic sled into the ocean that was towed behind the ship with a long cable.
The crew began by collecting control samples of volcanic ash from the ocean floor outside of IM1’s estimated path.
About one week into the expedition, a breakthrough came when the sled picked up the first “spherical metallic marbles”.
The spherules are formed as meteors and asteroids explode, and have been found at impact sites across the globe. The “tiny metallic pearls” were so small they were difficult to pick up with tweezers, Prof Loeb said.
Writing on Medium, Prof Loeb said at first the material looked like shards of corroded iron.
But when examined under fluorescent X-Ray, the research team determined they were most likely a steel and titanium alloy, also known as S5 or shock-resisting steel. The strength of S5 steel is well above that of iron meteorites, Prof Loeb wrote.
Under a microscope, they looked “beautiful”, Prof Loeb told The Independent. “One of them looked like Earth, many of them look like gold,” he said.
“My daughter asked if she can have one for a necklace. And I said that they were too small to thread through,” he said.
The objects will be taken to the Harvard College Observatory, where a team of researchers will analyse them for comparisons to other meteorite debris.
Rather than finding a needle in a haystack, Prof Loeb is convinced his “interstellar expedition” found tiny specks of an alien life form in the middle of the ocean.
On their final day at sea, having collected 50 spherules from the first recognised interstellar meteor, Prof Loeb and the team cracked open bottles of champagne on the deck of the Silver Star.
“There is this new opportunity of looking for interstellar debris at the bottom of the ocean,” Prof Loeb told The Independent.
“And the ocean is sort of like a museum. If it fell in the Sahara Desert, it would have been covered with sand by now. Those tiny droplets fell on the ocean floor, waited for nine and a half years, until our magnet attracted them. This entire story is just amazing.”
For a researcher who has has written more than 1,000 theoretical research papers, finding tiny objects at the bottom of the ocean had been an exhilarating experience.
“The past two weeks were the most exciting weeks in my scientific career,” he told The Independent.
Prof Loeb’s next book, Interstellar, is scheduled for publication in August 2023.
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