Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Oooh, Oumuamua

Now this really is a fascinating discovery. If you've been following the NASA website or other space-related outlets, you'll have seen the news that we have the first confirmed sighting of an object from beyond our solar system. And it is most peculiar.

Spotted by the PANSTARRS, the first interstellar asteroid received the initial designation C/2017 U1, under the understanding it was a comet, and is now named 1I/'Oumuamua, with the initial part designating its unique nature as the first object of its type, and the formal name 'Oumuamua being Hawaiian for "messenger from afar, arriving first." It's utterly unlike any asteroid seen before, being distinctly elongated in a sort-of cigar shape, almost ten times as long as it is wide. In fact, it's a quarter of a mile long, and it travelling 87,000 miles per hour, coming at us from the direction of Vega in Lyra, although it is unlikely it originates there. It has probably been travelling through space for billions of years without coming into contact with another star system. Alternatively, it has been proposed that it was ejected from the stellar nursery in the Carina-Columba Association which would put its origin about 45 million years ago.

'Oumuamua will zip past Saturn in early 2019, but will take about 20,000 years to make it beyond the edges of the solar system. NASA scientists are debating the likelihood of success for a mission to send a probe to analyse the asteroid, but catching it will prove a challenge, as it may move beyond reasonable range before a mission can be developed. It's a tempting target, though, potentially telling us all sorts about the conditions possible in other star systems.

The fact that 'Oumuamua became visible during one of the various times that the catastrophic planet Nibiru is supposed to appear and end all life on Earth has not gone unnoticed, although a quarter of a mile of rock heading away from us is unlikely to cause any problems. It does look like it would make an excellent long-haul spaceship though. Is anyone else thinking Rama would have been a good name?

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