On Jan. 8, 2014, a fireball from space blazed through Earth’s atmosphere and crashed into the sea, north of Manus Island off the northeastern coast of Papua New Guinea. Its location, velocity and brightness were recorded by U.S. government sensors and quietly tucked away in a database of similar events.

That data sat for five years, a source of no contention until Avi Loeb, a theoretical astrophysicist at Harvard University, and Amir Siraj, then an undergraduate student at the university, stumbled across it in 2019. Based on its logged speed and direction, Mr. Siraj identified the fireball as an extreme outlier.

Last month, Dr. Loeb led an expedition to retrieve fragments of the fireball off the western Pacific seafloor. On June 21, he claimed that he had. And that, he says to the chagrin of many of his colleagues, may be evidence of extraterrestrial life.

“Not biological creatures, the way you see in science fiction movies,” Dr. Loeb said. “It’s most likely a technological gadget with artificial intelligence.”

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