First 'alien' objects on Earth? Experts reveal what metal spheres are

First ever ‘alien’ objects on Earth? Scientists finally reveal what the mysterious metal spheres discovered at the bottom of the ocean actually are

  • Fragments found in Pacific Ocean have interstellar origin, Harvard physicist said
  • Now a new study explains why the controversial figure was likely mistaken 

A Harvard physicist ruffled feathers in the scientific community this year when he claimed to find the first ever objects from outside our solar system on Earth. 

Professor Avi Loeb said that small, round ‘spherules’ recovered from the Pacific Ocean were from an ‘interstellar’ meteor. 

The expert even analysed the spherules, alleging that their composition of elements had ‘never been seen before’, and that they could be remnants of an alien spacecraft.

However, the claim was met by ridicule from other members of the scientific community, with one saying there was a lack of ‘conclusive evidence’. 

Now, a new study has cast even further doubt on the claim by saying the fragments are just coal ash resulting from industrial activity.

The remnants came from a meter-size object that crashed off the coast of Papua, New Guinea in 2014, which Professor Loeb claims was an alien craft

Harvard’s Professor Avi Loeb (pictured) has proved a controversial figure in the world of astronomy and astrophysics 

READ MORE Sceptics wait for ‘convincing evidence’ that ocean fragments are alien

The remnants came from an object that crashed into the Pacific in 2014

Study author Patricio A. Gallardo, a physicist at the University of Chicago, says the fragments – codenamed CNEOS 2014-01-08 – point to ‘contamination from terrestrial sources’.

‘The meteoritic origin is disfavored,’ Dr Gallardo says in his new paper, published in Research Notes of the AAS. 

‘Few comparisons to contaminants have been conducted to discard the null hypothesis of terrestrial contamination.’  

Gallardo admits that the spherules, recovered from the ocean in June, are rich in three elements – beryllium, lanthanum and uranium.

The lanthanum and uranium were 500 times more plentiful than in earthly rocks and beryllium hundreds of times so.

Beryllium, which is the second-lightest solid material on the periodic table, is produced by a violent reaction called spallation which involves high-energy cosmic rays, which Loeb said is a ‘flag of interstellar travel’.

However, Dr Gallardo claims there’s a consistency between these three elements (as well as nickel) with the beryllium, lanthanum, uranium and nickel that arises in the ash from the burning of coal. 

‘Contents of nickel, beryllium, lanthanum and uranium are examined in the context of a known anthropogenic [human-made] source of contamination, and found to be consistent with coal ash,’ he said. 

Dr Gallardo also draws comparisons to a naval expedition in the Gulf of Mexico in 1976 that found large numbers of magnetic spherules from human-made sources in seawater.

Small round fragments (known as spherules, pictured) recovered from the waters have a composition of elements from ‘outside the solar system, never seen before’, Professor Avi Loeb said

Contents of nickel (Ni), beryllium (Be), lanthanum (La) and uranium (U) in the samples are found to be consistent with coal ash, says Patricio A. Gallardo

READ MORE 2014 meteor ‘was indeed an interstellar object’ US Space Command says 

According to NASA, the meteor soared through skies near Papua New Guinea at more than 100,000 miles per hour and impacted near Manus Island on January 8, 2014 (concept image)

‘Chemical composition analyses revealed consistency with coal fly ash, a waste product of the combustion of coal in power plants and steam engines,’ he said.

Professor Chris Lintott, an astrophysicist at the University of Oxford Department of Physics who was not involved with the new study, said Professor Loeb’s claims are ‘likely nonsense’. 

‘There’s no convincing evidence that what’s been found is interstellar,’ Professor Lintott, told MailOnline. 

‘There’s loads we can learn from studying meteorites and we’ve even spotted a couple of interstellar objects passing through the Solar System in the last few years but this isn’t the way to do it and it’s certainly not aliens.’ 

Olivier Hainaut, an astronomer at the European Southern Observatory who was not involved with the new study, called Professor Loeb an ‘interesting character’. 

‘He has fantastic ideas, and is super-fast in implementing them,’ Hainaut told MailOnline. 

‘The latter is part of the problem – he has been found rather sloppy in some of these quick-and-dirty papers, missing some issues that are obvious for someone working in that particular field.

‘The second problem is that he tends to reject these issues.’ 

The origins of the whole saga date back nearly a decade ago when a meteor – also known as a shooting star – slammed into Earth’s atmosphere. 

According to NASA, the meteor, known as IM1, lit up skies near Manus Island, Papua New Guinea on January 8, 2014 whilst travelling at more than 100,000 miles per hour.

One of Professor Loeb’s images released in August following his recovery mission show the spherules in detail 

According to NASA, the meteor lit up skies near Manus Island, Papua New Guinea on January 8, 2014 whilst travelling at more than 100,000 miles per hour. It may have showered the ocean with interstellar debris, according to scientists 

An interstellar origin?  

According to Professor Avi Loeb, the sperules represent ‘a new class’ because they’re unusually rich in three elements – beryllium, lanthanum and uranium.

Although these elements are found on Earth, Professor Loeb said the patterns do not match the alloys found on our planet, moon, Mars or other natural meteorites in the solar system.

The lanthanum and uranium were 500 times more plentiful than in earthly rocks and beryllium hundreds of times so.

The latter is significant because beryllium, which is the second-lightest solid material on the periodic table, is produced by a violent reaction called spallation which involves high-energy cosmic rays.

‘That is a flag of interstellar travel,’ Professor Loeb says, because it cannot occur at such a high level in our solar system as the solar wind protects us from the bulk of the radiation that causes it.

Scientists thought at the time it may have left interstellar debris in the South Pacific Ocean, which, if recovered, could reveal more about the rocky object’s origin. 

In an official memo last year, it was confirmed by US Space Command as the first known interstellar object, with ‘99.999 per cent confidence’, based on velocity measurements by US government satellites. 

The memo referred to a 2019 study by Professor Loeb and colleagues that acknowledged the meteor’s existence and argued it had come from outside our solar system. 

Determined to find the debris, Professor Loeb recruited a team – and the help of expeditions company EYOS – to venture out into the Pacific to find the meteor in June 2023.

The mission – funded by cryptocurrency entrepreneur Charles Hoskinson to the tune of $1.5 million – involved dragging a deep-sea magnetic sled along the fireball’s last known trajectory and completing 26 runs of the sea floor. 

To their delight, they found about 700 tiny metallic spheres during the expedition, and the 57 that have been analysed as yet contain compositions that do not match any natural or man-made alloys. 

Professor Loeb’s research was detailed in a pre-print paper, meaning it’s yet to be peer reviewed, but according to members of the scientific community are now refusing to engage with Professor Loeb’s work and so it may never be peer-reviewed.

Astrophysicist Steven Tingay, of Curtin University, told MailOnline: ‘Generally scientists would go through that peer review process first, before making massive claims. 

They recovered 50 unusual iron spheres after tracking down the unidentified object, known as IM1, off the coast of Papua New Guinea as part of a $ 1.5 million underwater search mission

A memo from March 2022 signs off findings from US Space Command chief scientist Dr Joel Mozer. It agrees the object is of an interstellar origin – with ‘99.999 per cent confidence’

Throughout their two-week Pacific voyage, the Galileo team scoured the seabed for signs of IM1 debris, dragging a deep-sea magnetic sled along the fireball’s last known trajectory. Pictured is Loeb (right) 

‘Avi does things differently and that clearly annoys a lot of people.

‘It is interesting that both Avi and his opponents each claim that the other is ignoring proper scientific process.

‘My view is that Avi’s approach is not inherently terrible, because at the end of the day all the evidence has to be presented, tested, independently reviewed and, at some point, the scientific community will come to a majority view on the claims.

‘That’s how science works. The loud minority can still exist, if it wants to, at that point.’

Interstellar objects are exciting to astronomers because they may provide an insight into other solar systems that we cannot reach.

Only three such objects have been observed, including the first (IM1 in 2014), the second, ‘Oumuamua, discovered in October 2017, and the third, Comet Borisov, discovered in August 2019.

Professor Loeb got himself a reputation for adventurous theories when he suggested Oumuamua could have been artificially constructed by aliens.


A cigar-shaped object named ‘Oumuamua sailed past Earth at 97,200mph (156,428km/h) in October 2017. 

It was first spotted by a telescope in Hawaii on October 19, and was observed 34 separate times in the following week. 

It is named after the Hawaiian term for ‘scout’ or ‘messenger’ and passed the Earth at about 85 times the distance to the moon.

It was hailed as the first interstellar object seen in the solar system, but it baffled astronomers.

Initially, it was thought the object could be a comet. 

However, it displays none of the classic behavior expected of comets, such as a dusty, water-ice particle tail.

The asteroid is up to one-quarter mile (400 meters) long and highly-elongated – perhaps 10 times as long as it is wide.

That aspect ratio is greater than that of any asteroid or asteroid observed in our solar system to date.

But the asteroid’s slightly red hue — specifically pale pink — and varying brightness are remarkably similar to objects in our own solar system.

Around the size of the Gherkin skyscraper in London, some astronomers were convinced it was piloted by aliens due to the vast distance the object traveled without being destroyed – and the closeness of its journey past the Earth. 

Alien hunters at SETI – the Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence based at Berkeley University, California said there was a possibility the rock was ‘an alien artefact’.

But scientists from Queen’s University Belfast took a good look at the object and said it appears to be an asteroid, or ‘planetesimal’ as originally thought. 

Researchers believe the cigar-shaped asteroid had a ‘violent past’, after looking at the light bouncing off its surface. 

They aren’t exactly sure when the violent collision took place, but they believe the lonely asteroid’s tumbling will continue for at least a billion years.

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