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Space Science

Study of Recent Interstellar Asteroid Reveals Bizarre Shape (bbc.com) 144

JoeRobe writes: A few weeks ago an interstellar asteroid, now named "Oumuamua," was discovered passing through our solar system. Being the first interstellar asteroid to ever be observed, a flurry of observations soon followed. This week, an accelerated article in Nature reveals that Oumuamua is more bizarre than originally thought: it is elongated, with a 10:1 aspect ratio, and rapidly rotating. This conclusion is based upon comparisons of its time-dependent light curve to those from 20,000 known asteroids.
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Study of Recent Interstellar Asteroid Reveals Bizarre Shape

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    For all we know it could be a possible weapon which went haywire during an intra-galactic war somewhere between the Aliens...

    • All I've seen are somewhat vague artists' renderings. From the description, it could be shaped like a giant Bugles snack [wikia.com].

      • by jwhyche ( 6192 )

        From the description, it could be shaped like a giant Bugles snack

        This, this could be a problem.

    • Given George Carlins observations about the phallic shape of our weapons this conclusion would make sense. Of course the most obvious counter argument would be that we have no idea what shapes an alien phallus might take.

      • The Sparrow: the author of that book assumed that the Jana'ata aliens' phallus was pretty much the same size and shape as human ones.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 21, 2017 @03:11AM (#55593119)

    Let's not name it or decide how weird it is yet, thanks.

    • ...do doo, dododoo [youtube.com]!

    • by Anonymous Coward

      From the looks of it that thing could be fossilized spaceship

      • It's not a space ship, it is a monitor from the future that has fallen back through time. They were using the past as a way to throw away their outdated equipment when they went to the new and more productive 12:1 aspect ration on their screens.

    • by msauve ( 701917 )
      ...and they're slightly off, it doesn't have a 10:1 aspect ratio, it's 9:4:1 [wikipedia.org].
      • ...and they're slightly off, it doesn't have a 10:1 aspect ratio, it's 9:4:1.

        I am a member of the intergalactic consortium that founded the Open UFO Specifications Society, and it just happens that those are the ideal flying saucer dimensions, as defined by the latest review version of the OUFOSS-1.2.

    • Let's not name it or decide how weird it is yet, thanks.

      With all this flood of celebrities and politicians admitting to sexual harassment . . . now we even start off on innocent interstellar flying objects!

      Where will this Harassment Hell ever end . . . ?

    • Aw I see its been named I would of suggested Meteorite mcmeteorite face! XD
  • by TFlan91 ( 2615727 ) on Tuesday November 21, 2017 @03:13AM (#55593125)

    There are all these objects flying all over the place to various destinations, most of which we have no clue about. And they are traveling fast. Without propellant. On a fairly confident trajectory.

    Would it be plausible for us to find an incoming object that is near enough not only to Earth when it passes by, but then also, say, near Mars, or Jupiter's moons?

    I am by no means at all knowledgeable about space-fairing. But it seems to me this would be a, somewhat, easy shortcut. We've already landed on an asteroid, the next logical piece is to find a way to launch from it.

    • I assume the chances of it getting where you want and making use of it make it ... difficult and uninteresting.

      We can swing our own objects.

    • Re:Wild thought (Score:5, Informative)

      by Gavagai80 ( 1275204 ) on Tuesday November 21, 2017 @03:30AM (#55593177) Homepage

      In order to land on such an asteroid rather than be smashed into a trillion pieces by it, you have to match the speed of the asteroid. At that point, you can already go wherever the asteroid is going -- or lots of better places -- just as quickly without landing on it. How is that a shortcut? Seems to make the whole process immensely more complicated and fuel-consuming than just going from point A to point B.

    • If you are so fast that you can intercept the satellite and orbit around or land on it, you can as well fly the way yourself. For what would you need it? Radiation shield?

      • You could land an engine on the asteroid, then use the asteroid for fuel, allowing you to cheat the rocket equation.

        • by msauve ( 701917 )
          Put some rocks in your gas tank and let us know how far you get.
          • by athmanb ( 100367 )

            You can split H2O and CO2 using electrolysis powered by a nuclear reactor. That'd save a whole lot of weight compared to having to drag the oxygen with you.

            And even if the asteroid is 100%, those are still free reaction mass.

    • by mentil ( 1748130 )

      Unfortunately the g-forces caused by grabbing onto it would destroy the vessel (unless it matches the celestial object's speed and trajectory... in which case there's no point). I could foresee some kind of grabber connected to the vessel in an elastic fashion, which dampens the g-forces, but simply getting nearby enough to grapple the object (without crashing into it) would be tricky. Just getting the craft to the celestial object would take nearly as much energy as just going directly toward the destinati

    • We can only land on an asteroid which is going slowly enough to catch. If you try to land on a fast moving object you will go splat. There is a theoretical idea of using tethers to attach your vehicle to a fast moving object but you would need to know how the attachment point works, you would need many kilometers of tether, and a damping system so that slack is taken up gradually.

    • But it seems to me this would be a, somewhat, easy shortcut. We've already landed on an asteroid, the next logical piece is to find a way to launch from it.

      All space travel is nothing but things in ballistic trajectories. It is all about the velocity vector, and velocity requires rocket propulsion which is expensive. Landing on an asteroid requires two major velocity changes - getting on a solar orbit that intersects with the object, then matching velocities (in addition to getting away from Earth's gravity field). You only go through all that energy-expense to investigate the object, there is no other reason. It is not like a piece of land, where airplanes la

    • To do what you're proposing, it would help if we had something like a hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy.

  • Hello Rama! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 21, 2017 @03:14AM (#55593129)

    We will not be coming this time.

    • It did come from the direction of Vega. I think the coincidences are lining up too well. Get Clarke on the line, he needs to answer some questions.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        That may be a little difficult, since he passed away in 2008.

    • It's way too small to be a Rama. Only 400 meters, less than 1% of Rama's length.

      So it's clearly a probe with less impressive mission specs.

      • I believe the dimensions were calculated based on its brightness and an assume albedo. If it were much darker than assumed, then it could be much larger.

        • But certainly not 100x larger, so it is definitely a probe launched ahead of Rama to help determine its course.
    • by gtarthur ( 86809 )

      Obviously, AC Clarke has foretold that we should wait for the 3rd one.
      Just in case, let's make sure we don't kill all the humpbacks for a few decades.

  • by mentil ( 1748130 ) on Tuesday November 21, 2017 @03:29AM (#55593175)

    So a massive, rock-hard, spinning space phallus is penetrating our solar system? Hopefully it avoids us and finds its way to a Black Hole.

  • by DNS-and-BIND ( 461968 ) on Tuesday November 21, 2017 @03:34AM (#55593191) Homepage
    The story leaves out the most important part, one we know by direct empirical evidence is more newsworthy than anything else: What kind of shirt was the spokesman wearing when he made the announcement? This critical piece of information is missing and we cannot possibly judge the impact of this news release without it.
    • More importantly, we need Kardashian and Bieber opinions.
    • CNN: "Interstellar space rock flies through solar system at alarming pace, possibly with Russian influence. Women and minorities disproportionately impacted by Trump administration's unwillingness to act."
  • Dr. Evil? (Score:4, Funny)

    by boudie2 ( 1134233 ) on Tuesday November 21, 2017 @03:50AM (#55593231)
    Johnson: [Noticing Dr. Evil's spaceship on radar] Colonel, you better have a look at this radar
    . Colonel: What is it, son?
    Johnson: I don't know, sir, but it looks like a giant--
    Jet Pilot: Dick.
    Dick: Yeah?
    Jet Pilot: Take a look out of starboard.
    Dick: Oh my God, it looks like a huge--
    Bird-Watching Woman: Pecker.
    Bird-Watching Man: [raising binoculars] Ooh, Where?
    Bird-Watching Woman: Wait, that's not a woodpecker, it looks like someone's--
    Army Sergeant: Privates! We have reports of an unidentified flying object. It has a long, smooth shaft, complete with--
    Baseball Umpire: Two balls.
    [looking up from game]
    Baseball Umpire: What is that. It looks just like an enormous--
    Chinese Teacher: Wang, pay attention!
    Wang: I was distracted by that giant flying--
    Musician: Willie.
    Willie Nelson: Yeah?
    Musician: What's that?
    Willie Nelson: [squints] Well, that looks like a giant--
    Colonel: Johnson?!
    Johnson: Yes, sir?
    Colonel: Get on the horn to British Intelligence and let them know about this.
    Later, as Dr. Evil is escaping: Basil: Did we get Dr. Evil?
    Johnson: No, sir. He got away in that rocket that looks like a huge--
    Schoolteacher: Penis. The male reproductive organ. Otherwise known as tallywhacker, schlong or--
    Dad: Weiner? Any of you kids want another weiner?
    Son: Dad? What's that? points at rocket
    Dad: I don't know, son, but it's got great big--
    Peanut seller: Nuts! Hot salty nuts! Who wants some-- Lord Almighty!
    Woman: That looks just like my husband's--
    Ringmaster: One-eyed monster! Step right up and see the One-Eyed Monster!
    One-eyed Monster: jumps out and scares crowd, then points to the rocket Hey, what's that? It looks like a big--
    female Fan: Woody! Woody Harrelson? Can I have an autograph?
    Woody Harrelson: Sure thing. [Sees rocket] Oh my lord.
    Female fan: It's big!
    Woody: Nah, I've seen bigger, it's--
    Dr. Evil: (To Mini-Me) Just a little prick. It's a flu shot. You've been in the coldness of space.
  • Would it not be wonderful to know that there is life out there, even if the probe they sent had been en route for millions of years?
    • Option 1: blow it up

      Option 2: tell everyone it's fake news and it doesn't exist

      Option 3: retrieve it and put it in a theme park

    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      We should have searched it for Chuck Berry recordings.

  • The artwork makes me think of the whale probe in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home...
  • It would seem, such "visitor" from outside of our Solar system would be a very interesting thing to study. Can we, perhaps, think up a way of capturing the next one somehow? Change the speed and direction of it just enough for it start orbiting the Moon, for example (too dangerous to mess with an Earth orbit, where a mistake can send it on our heads).

    • To be honest, we were all sort of hoping you would think of a way. So far you are letting us down.

      • That right there is an ironic reply that could apply to 96.145% of the posts on Slashdot.

      • by mi ( 197448 )

        I'm not a rocket scientist. But it would seem, making contact with an interstellar rock — and even forcing it to change speed/direction enough to become a Moon's satellite — would be more achievable than a meaningful Mars expedition.

        It does not have to be this one — according to an anonymous reply here, there are thousands of such objects passing through the Solar system on any given day. We could pick and choose something, that would only require an achievable delta-V to be caught...

    • The reason why we know this is from outside the solar system is that it is moving much too fast for anything that was ever part of the solar system. `Oumuamua has a solar velocity excess (V_infinity) of 26 km/sec.

      The fastest thing (in terms of V_infinity) we have ever sent by rocket technology is the little New Horizons probe at 16 km/sec. Even rendezvousing with any of these objects is going to be a major undertaking. This would require a mission (or more likely missions) kept ready to go on mere days noti

      • by PPH ( 736903 )

        we have ever sent by rocket technology

        It's good that you qualified that statement. We could catch it with a manhole cover [wikipedia.org].

  • by advocate_one ( 662832 ) on Tuesday November 21, 2017 @04:23AM (#55593309)
    the invasion is coming...
  • by l0n3s0m3phr34k ( 2613107 ) on Tuesday November 21, 2017 @04:39AM (#55593329)
    Is it rotating at 4 RPM? Is it around 34 miles long? Unfortunately, we don't have any craft like the solar survey vessel Endeavour to intercept it. There will be another extrasolar intruder almost like this in about another 70 years.
  • by bferrell ( 253291 ) on Tuesday November 21, 2017 @04:39AM (#55593331) Homepage Journal

    RAMA!

  • The shape so reminiscent of a Culture Mind ship .
  • It's a spaceship!
  • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Tuesday November 21, 2017 @05:33AM (#55593471)
    Only the maximum and minimum moments of inertia are stable in rotation. If you try to spin an object around any other axis, it will tumble [youtube.com] - the axis of rotation varies relative to the body [youtube.com]. Every spacecraft or satellite that's launched had some poor slob whose job was to get the exact mass, location, and inertia tensor of every single component put into the spacecraft, and put it into a huge spreadsheet. Then he uses that to calculate the minimum and maximum moments of inertia of the spacecraft. If the desired spin axis doesn't line up with either of these moments, then he has to change the location of some of the components of the spacecraft until it does (like positioning weights on a tire when you balance it)..

    With round or nearly round objects, the min/max moment of inertia isn't very different from from the inertia around other axes, so this oscillation tends to be very slow and not noticeable. But it's much more likely to be pronounced with an elongated and flattened body.
    • Every spacecraft or satellite that's launched had some poor slob whose job was to get the exact mass, location, and inertia tensor of every single component put into the spacecraft, and put it into a huge spreadsheet. Then he uses that to calculate the minimum and maximum moments of inertia of the spacecraft. If the desired spin axis doesn't line up with either of these moments, then he has to change the location of some of the components of the spacecraft until it does (like positioning weights on a tire when you balance it)..

      Thrusters give very predictable thrust, right? Why can't you just calculate the necessary thrust from the reaction, like the tire balancing machine does?

      • by bidule ( 173941 )

        Mu. The length of rope used doesn't change the way the spinning top wobbles.

        The OP was talking about the 20 years it'll stay in orbit, not the launch phase.

  • It'd be hilarious if it turned out to be a generational ship hit by a chunk of space debris that made it spin out of control, and we couldn't tell - just a foreign asteroid passing through our solar system. Whoops.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Who says it's out of control ?. Think about it spin solves a couple of problems.
      First you have gravity at the ends and the larger biological stuff we know of seems to do better with up and down.
      Secondly making course corrections is easy. No need to use steering thrusters, just fire up whatever the main drive is when you are pointing in the right direction.

      Too late now, but it's hard to believe something with that aspect ratio was natural, most of the naturally occurring crap within the solar system would br

  • by Anonymous Coward

    This is essentially the prelude of the book Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke.

  • Interstellar asteroid with a 10:1 ratio, 400m long and rapidly rotating...

    Sounds like an Earth ship. Be curious to calculate the equivalent gravity of the rotational speed if the asteroid was hollow. Also, what is the mass, density.

    Here come the "other guys" from Outer Space.

  • The velocity excess of 26.33 km/sec makes it 'faster' (more total energy) relative to the Sun than any man-made object. This velocity is fairly typical for random stellar motions relative to each other in our region of the galaxy (with 5 km/sec of the average). This is a bit less that 0.01% c so travelling a few light years takes a few tens of thousands of years.

    Now if this an alien spaceship that was travelling much faster but simply braked to this velocity before making this approach to the Sun, to study

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