Harvard professor Avi Loeb finds fragments in ocean that may be alien
An astrophysicist at Harvard University believes he may have found proof of extraterrestrial life not by studying the vast night sky, but by combing the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.
Last month, a crew aboard a boat called the Silver Star embarked on an expedition to Papua New Guinea with the mission of recovering fragments from a mysterious meteor that had crashed into Earth in 2014.
During the two-week excursion, the team scoured over 100 miles of ocean bed before recovering 50 tiny spheres composed of a metallic substance they say is unmatched to any existing alloys in our solar system.
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The spheres — which are so miniscule that they require a microscope to see — require further testing to determine whether they're natural or technological in nature. Depending on the findings, the objects could be the first time that humanity has found solid evidence of interstellar beings.
In other words, aliens.
"Our findings open a new frontier in astronomy of studying what lies outside the solar system through microscopes rather than telescopes, said Avi Loeb, a professor and astrophysicist at Harvard University, who led the expedition as its chief scientist.
The fragments the team uncovered are believed to be from a basketball-sized meteorite that in 2014 slammed into the Earth’s atmosphere and into the western Pacific Ocean.
Originating from outside the solar system, the meteor moved at a speed two times faster than nearly all of the stars in the vicinity of the sun, Loeb said. Though too small to be noticed by telescopes through its reflection of sunlight, its collision with Earth generated a bright fireball recorded by U.S. government sensors, Loeb added.
Loeb in 2019 identified the meteor's interstellar origin in a paper he co-wrote with Harvard undergraduate student Amir Siraj. Three years later, U.S. Space Command further confirmed in a 2022 letter to NASA that the object — deemed interstellar meteor, IM1 — came from another solar system.
The $1.5 million expedition that Loeb led was to recover the fragments left over from the explosion on the floor of the Pacific Ocean at its crash site near Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. Between June 14-28, the crew searched over 108 miles of the ocean floor by combing it with a sled full of magnets attached to their boat.
Loeb said it took days to get the magnetic sled on the ocean floor and a few more days after that to understand just what the crew collected along the expected path of the meteor — about 53 miles off the coast of Manus Island.
"As we scooped the magnets, the most abundant material attached to them was a black powder of volcanic ash," he wrote on Medium.com.
But after a week at sea, the breakthrough Loeb had been seeking finally came. A member of the team observed through the microscope a "beautiful metallic marble of sub-millimeter size and sub-milligram mass," Loeb wrote. After the discovery, the team continued to find more spherules.
A preliminary analysis of the spherules' composition suggested they do not match commonly manufactured alloys or natural meteorites in our solar system, Loeb said. The crew brought the 50 spherules to the Harvard College Observatory for further study.
The fundamental question scientists hope to answer is whether the meteor was natural in origin, or artificially-made. In other words, is it remnants of an alien spaceship?
"We've been looking for something the size of a watermelon in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and somehow managed to find some fragments," according to a statement from, American entrepreneur Charles Hoskinson, who funded the expedition. "This operation has produced excellent science and I hope captures the imagination of the general public for the pursuit of intelligent life in the universe."
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The expedition team recently held its first meeting to plan and put together a scientific paper to describe the findings, Loeb said.
The team hopes to complete a preliminary analysis at three laboratories at Harvard, in Germany and at the University of California, Berkeley, the findings of which Loeb said will be incorporated into a paper that will be submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal within the month.
It's not lost on Loeb how significant of a discovery he could have on his hands, the implications of which would fundamentally alter humanity's understanding of the universe and our place in it. A few days after returning from the expedition, Loeb recalled that FedEx delivered a black plastic suitcase with the materials to his front door.
"I then realized that for the first time in history, humans are in possession of materials from a meter-size object that came from outside the solar system, the first recognized interstellar meteor," Loeb told USA TODAY. "FedEx was the last step in a journey that this package may have made for billions of years through interstellar space before it arrived at my doorstep."
Eric Lagatta covers breaking and trending news for USA TODAY. Reach him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @EricLagatta.'Internet apocalypse':Robotic arms: