Nearly a year after U.S. Space Command somewhat randomly confirmed that scientists had correctly identified the first known interstellar object to land on our planet, mysterious difficulties are still preventing the release of information about the government hoarding and suppressing data related to the extrasolar visitation.
In 2019, Harvard researchers Amar Siraj and Avi Loeb posted a preprint study about their apparent discovery that an interstellar meteor had landed near Papua New Guinea in 2014. This was, in retrospect, the first known object from another star to enter our solar system. (A different interstellar object, ‘Oumuamua—a quarter-mile wide object credibly held to possibly be a piece of alien technology—was spotted in 2017.) The researchers, though, were stymied in their attempts to confirm the discovery, because relevant data had been collected by Department of Defense sensors used to track nuclear explosions and was therefore classified.
Last year, after a variety of bureaucratic delays, Space Command issued a memo stating that John Mozer, its chief scientist, had used DoD data to confirm that the researchers were correct about the meteor’s origin. This still, though, left open the question of whether the government had for years suppressed information about this momentous discovery, and if so, why.
Seeking insight, Motherboard filed requests under the Freedom of Information Act with different federal agencies. One of those was filed with the Department of Energy in April 2022, and sought emails from two scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory, which among other things designs nuclear weapons, mentioning the terms asteroid, meteor, or debris. We requested expedited processing given the public’s interest in learning why the government isn’t sharing data about alien bodies transiting our solar system.
Several days later, the DoE informed Motherboard that the request had been forwarded to the National Nuclear Security Administration, and several days after that, a government information specialist informed us that we had not demonstrated compelling need for expedited processing. Two months after that, a different correspondent informed us that the request was processing, and three months after that, she gave us an estimated completion date of November 2022. In November, that date was moved to December; in December, we were told the estimated completion date could not be met because the request had been sent back to Los Alamos for “additional information.”
It is currently March 2023, and Motherboard is not in possession of records from Los Alamos scientists mentioning asteroids, meteors, or debris. In January, we were told “the issue is with the program office.” This week, we were told there is no estimated completion date and that “there have been a few difficulties that the NNSA’s Los Alamos Field Office (NA-LA) and/or Lab will have to work out.”
What those difficulties are remains unknown, as do the contents of any emails from a defined time period in which two specific Los Alamos scientists discuss asteroids, meteors, or debris. The possibility remains open, however, that the records, which probably aren’t particularly startling, will be released to the public in time for the July premiere of Oppenheimer, Christopher Nolan’s new biopic about the most famous Los Alamos scientist of all.
Despite what appears to be a bipartisan consensus that sluggish responses to FOIA requests render the vital transparency law nigh-useless, as well as the occasional lawsuit, no one in a position of authority seems to be particularly inclined to do anything about it.