Think about it: An object that is created countless miles and millennia away and only crashes into the sea. The implications are as big and mysterious as the wide open space from which he came.
A Time Capsule
Loeb and his co-author Amir Siraj investigated the speed of objects that entering the Earth's atmosphere can be used to predict if the object was in relation to the orbit of our Sun.
"We've taken the meteor's properties and taken the speed at the time of impact and extrapolated whether it's bound to the sun or not," says Loeb. Of the three fastest objects that were registered, the fastest objects were clearly bound to our sun. The third fastest could not be clearly categorized. But the second-fastest, according to Loeb, bore all the hallmarks of being literally outside of this solar system.
"At this speed, it takes tens of thousands of years for an object to move from one star to another," he says. Since they do not know exactly where they came from, they can not say exactly how old they are, but it could be downright ancient. "To traverse the galaxy would take hundreds of millions of years."
A Potential Sign of Life
Of all the possibilities included in this relatively small object, perhaps the most exciting idea is that interstellar objects could theoretically lead life out of other solar systems.
"Above all, there is the possibility that life is transmitted between stars," says Loeb. "In principle, life could survive in the very core of a rock, either bacteria or Tardigrades (a microscopic, aquatic animal) that can survive harsh conditions in space and come directly to us."
Mindblowing? Just a bit. Although the object described in this article is the first recorded interstellar meteor that hit Earth, the study estimates that such objects enter the Earth's atmosphere approximately every ten years. This means that there may be a million different interstellar objects in our solar system that are only waiting to be investigated.