A Harvard professor discovered mysterious metal-rich spherules at the bottom of the ocean.
Because of their unique composition, he controversially claimed they were alien in nature.
Many scientists refuted this claim, and one now thinks they may just be industrial waste.
A Harvard professor’s claims that metallic balls discovered under the ocean may have been made by aliens have been called into question yet again.
Their bizarre chemical makeup, he said, suggested they could be a form of alien technology.
The statement drew criticism from parts of the scientific community, who said Loeb was being too bold and too hasty in his assertions.
Now an analysis may offer a more down-to-earth explanation for the mysterious spherules: they may simply be an offshoot of coal burning.
Spheres from industrial waste
University of Chicago research fellow Patricio Gallardo analyzed the chemical composition of coal ash, a waste product left behind by the combustion of coal in power plants and steam engines.
As a reference, Gallardo used a publicly available coal chemical database called COALQUAL.
His analysis, he said, found that iron, nickel, beryllium, lanthanum, and uranium concentrations reported by Loeb and colleagues in the metal spherules were “consistent with expectations from coal ash from a coal chemical composition database.”
“The meteoritic origin is disfavored,” Gallardo said in his post.
Gallardo’s analysis was published in a journal that is not peer-reviewed.
In a post on Medium published Thursday, Loeb stated the claim about the coal ash was: “Based on unrefereed comments that superficially examined a few elements out of the dozens we analyzed.”
“To be scientifically credible, any such claim must reproduce the measured abundances of all elements and, in particular, demonstrate the loss of volatile elements — as derived in our paper.”
Loeb provided several rebuttals to the analysis. He cited team member, Dr Jim Lem, head of the Department of Mining Engineering at the University of Technology in Papua New Guinea saying: “The region where the expedition was carried, should have no coal mineralization.” He also said that the spherules have more iron than coal ash.
Where did the mysterious metal spherules come from?
Loeb’s decision to seek out these spherules came from a high-stakes gamble.
According to The New York Times, the scientist’s team had uncovered partially classified governmental records suggesting an object had exploded near Earth in 2014.
Their analysis, as well as a letter from US Space Command, suggested the fireball could have come from an object that had traveled from interstellar space, per the Times.
This left Loeb wondering if the 2014 object was an extraterrestrial probe, the Times reported.
To test his theory, Loeb went to great lengths to recover debris from the object, which would have landed near Papua New Guinea. He commandeered a magnetic “rake” that could dredge under thousands of feet of water, an expedition that received $1.5 million backing from a cryptocurrency magnate, per the Times.
This wasn’t Loeb’s first foray into the murky world of alien hunting. He has also claimed that Oumuamua, a rare interstellar rocky object shaped like a cigar that flew a bizarre pattern as it passed Earth, was likely a piece of alien tech. The claim has been heavily disputed.
The Papua New Guinea expedition could have failed if the spherules weren’t magnetic, per the Times. But the team recovered hundreds of metallic spherules, tiny spheres that are the hallmark of debris left behind by meteorites when molten rock burns through the atmosphere.
Five of the 57 spherules he analyzed from the bunch were indeed bizarre, Loeb and co-authors said in a paper published online in August, which has not been vetted by peer review.
They were made of an excess of beryllium, lanthanum, and uranium, a “never seen before” composition for the tiny spheres, per the study. The spheres also carried bizarre iron isotopes, versions of atoms, which altogether were “supporting its interstellar origin,” the authors of the study reported.
Dubbing these five spherules BeLaU, Loeb and his colleagues went an extra step in their interpretation. They stated in their paper these “may reflect an extraterrestrial technological origin,” though they noted the claim required further investigation.
The fragments “could be a spacecraft from another civilization or some technological gadget,” Loeb told CBS News.
A controversial take
Many scientists quickly distanced themselves from Loeb and colleagues’ interpretation.
Some agreed that the bizarre composition of the BeLaU spherules could suggest an extra-terrestrial origin but questioned the claim they were necessarily made outside of the solar system. Others analyzing the 2014 object disagreed that it would have come from interstellar space, and suggested the spherule composition could have come from the solar system.
Loeb disagreed with those he called his “lazy critics.”
In an answer to a request for comment from Business Insider, Loeb said that coal ash would not have been magnetic enough to be picked up by the dredging equipment they used to collect them, which used magnets.
According to Loeb, his team’s own analysis comparing the composition of the spherules and coal ash, conducted by his collaborators Stein Jacobsen at Harvard University and Roald Tagle from the Bruker Corporation in Germany, “found the two to be completely different in many elements including iron, silicon or aluminum.”
“There is no way that the two can be confused for one another. We are bewildered that the association of our spherules with coal ash was even suggested,” he told BI.
He added that his research teams are currently analyzing the remaining 93% of the nearly 800 spherules collected.
“It is surprising that anyone would state decisively that the spherules are coal ash without having access to the materials,” he told BI.
“The only way to determine the nature of the spherules is through a careful scientific analysis which we are currently conducting with the best instruments in the world,” he said.
A full analysis of the composition of the spherules will be reported once it is finished, Loeb said.
Gallardo did not respond to requests by BI for comment.
Read the original article on Business Insider