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Scientists believe ‘alien’ spheres dredged from ocean have an explanation — here’s what we know

The scientific community has rejected claims that the spherules are interstellar in origin.

The scientific community has rejected claims that the spherules are interstellar in origin.

Photo Credit: iStock

Recent studies refute an outspoken Harvard scientist’s claim that microscopic metallic spheres in the Pacific Ocean are pieces of an interstellar meteor or alien spacecraft. Several new research analyses believe the debris is more likely a result of industrial pollution from burning coal.

What happened?

This past summer, astrophysicist and Harvard professor Avi Loeb stated the tiny spherules his team found off the coast of Papua New Guinea were remnants of an interstellar meteor with possible traces of extraterrestrial technology.

Loeb and his team of scientists had been searching the region for particles of a meteor that hit the atmosphere in 2014. Based on Loeb’s chemical analysis of the tiny metallic spheres, he believed the spherules were debris from the meteor.

However, upon further research and examination of the metallic spheres’ composition, the scientific community has rejected Loeb’s claims that the spherules are interstellar in origin. 

On Oct. 23, a paper published in the journal Research Notes of the AAS examined the metallic spheres’ composition and declared the particles were consistent with the chemical composition of coal ash contaminants. Patricio Gallardo, the author of the paper and an astronomer at the University of Chicago, concluded that based on his findings, “the meteoritic origin is disfavored.”

Additional studies disputing the spherules’ interstellar origin have also been published. According to a paper written by professors Alan Jackson of Towson University and Steven Desch of Arizona State University, the reported speed of the meteor indicates that at least 99.8% of the matter vaporized in the atmosphere, which would not cause significant debris on the seafloor.

Why do metallic spheres in the ocean matter?

The updated findings surrounding Loeb’s claims underscore the reality of industrial pollution. In the U.S., coal ash is one of the largest forms of industrial waste, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

A 2021 Cornell study says that “more than 99.9% of peer-reviewed scientific papers agree that climate change is mainly caused by humans, according to a new survey of 88,125 climate-related studies.” Coal is one of the worst ways humans pollute the air, and as these sphere findings indicate, coal plants pollute the environment on the ground and in the ocean as well. 

The recent studies regarding these metallic spheres — and, separately, climate change — also reveal the importance of the scientific process and review. When scientists study a phenomenon, it’s necessary to establish a clear boundary between the extraordinary hypothesis (the highly unlikely theory) and the null hypothesis (the highly likely theory). Loeb’s analyses relied too heavily on the extraordinary hypothesis, ignoring key evidence that suggested the spheres were a result of manmade pollutants.

What’s being done about it?

The scientific community has reviewed and rejected Loeb’s claims, emphasizing the importance of evidence over extraordinary hypotheses. 

In an article debunking Loeb’s claims, astrophysicist and science writer Ethan Siegel stated, “But the most important lesson is this: in any endeavor, we must always ask the essential question of, ‘What is true?’ rather than treating all voices — even expert voices — as equally valid.”

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