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Old 16 December 2017, 06:23 PM
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Default Astronomers Want To Know: Does This Interstellar Visitor Have A Message For Us?

Story here.

Basically: this is an odd-shaped object that's come a very long way. One very unlikely, but not impossible, explanation for the odd shape might be that it's artificial.

Quote:
Beginning Wednesday, the group Breakthrough Listen will closely scan the asteroid 'Oumuamua, [ . . . ] researchers working with the international organization want to seize their limited opportunity to find out if it really is just a naturally occurring phenomenon — and not something more. [ . . . ]

"We don't want to be sensational in any way, and we are very realistic about the chances this is artificial," Yuri Milner, the Russian billionaire financing the project, told the Scientific American, "but because this is a unique situation we think mankind can afford 10 hours of observing time using the best equipment on the planet to check a low-probability hypothesis."
Makes sense to me --
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Old 16 December 2017, 06:41 PM
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Meh. Arthur C. Clarke already did it.
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Old 16 December 2017, 10:27 PM
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Luckily, we have whales it can talk to.
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Old 16 December 2017, 10:35 PM
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*phew* You're right! Give it a couple more centuries and we'd be SOL...
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Old 17 December 2017, 01:58 PM
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ASL, your link's broken; though I think I know what you're referring to.
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Old 17 December 2017, 03:12 PM
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I almost wish the article had skipped the artists' depiction and just described it. The problem for me is that, because it's depicted as being essentially level, it leaves the impression that it's some sort of geological Battlestar, or closed-ended Doomsday machine.

Without some better information, my guess is that this thing is tumbling through space like most of the other rocks in the universe. While I agree it is something worth observing, it's just as likely to be the shattered remains of some long ago collision.

I'd rather it be studied without any pretense and let it reveal what it may. I don't think it's necessary to bring up the possibility of it being artificial -- however cautiously.

~Psihala
(*Prefers "Hey! There's an oddly shaped object floating around out there! Let's study it!" to "Hey! There's an oddly shaped object floating around out there! Let's see if there's evidence it was artificially sculpted!")

Last edited by Psihala; 17 December 2017 at 03:17 PM.
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Old 17 December 2017, 08:31 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by thorny locust View Post
ASL, your link's broken; though I think I know what you're referring to.
It was supposed to be a link to the Wikipedia page for Rendezvous With Rama, but my mobile to desktop conversion skills are no good.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Psihala View Post
~Psihala
(*Prefers "Hey! There's an oddly shaped object floating around out there! Let's study it!" to "Hey! There's an oddly shaped object floating around out there! Let's see if there's evidence it was artificially sculpted!")
Of course. But that doesn't generate headlines. Or clicks. Or funding for further research. Reality is boring. But speculation? Rife with possibilities!

And it's not so much that it's oddly shaped as it is that it appears to have originated from outside the solar system. It's unfortunate the article chose to highlight the fringe possibility of artificiality or life when I doubt very much most scientists think those are very real possibilities. Probably not even the ones quoted in the article.

Last edited by ASL; 17 December 2017 at 08:38 PM.
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Old 17 December 2017, 11:45 PM
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Well, I would have to push back on that a bit. I mean, it's the longest not-human-made piece of anything we've ever seen in space and the first thing we've ever encountered from outside the solar system. On what grounds can we say that it's a "fringe possibility" to be unrelated to life outside the solar system? We simply have very little relevant data on the question so far. From what we do know, that other life forms exist is certainly no fringe possibility.

Also, it's the norm that researchers promote their research with unlikely but possibly ground-breaking results, not the exception. The chances that particular compound will be an awesome new cancer drug? Almost zero. But if it shows an interesting sign, what else are researchers supposed to do? Say "well, the chances are so slim that you might as well not invest in this particular one because it's a crap shoot..." That's unwise. "This may be the next such drug" is shorthand for "If we don't keep investing in these unlikely unknowns we'll never find the next one" -- or the first one in the case of extraterrestrial life. So I think it's the right message and I think they're saying it the right way. They point out that it's unlikely but that it's likely there's much to learn from it even if it's not.
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Old 18 December 2017, 01:36 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ganzfeld View Post
I mean, it's the longest not-human-made piece of anything we've ever seen in space and the first thing we've ever encountered from outside the solar system.
Can you clarify what you mean by the part I bolded?
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Old 18 December 2017, 02:06 PM
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I don't know for sure, but maybe length relative to other dimensions?

It's my impression that most such objects we see are very roughly spherical, or at any rate blocky clumps; not narrow elongated oblongs. (Leaving comets' tails out of it, because those aren't the main body, but a reaction to proximity of the sun pulling the tails out of the main body.)

However, that might just be my ignorance in the subject.
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Old 18 December 2017, 02:06 PM
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I mean its shape is extremely elongated.

It is reported to have been estimated at 230m long -- and 35m by 35m wide! It’s also asteroidal rather than comet-like, unlike pretty much every other long period object ever discovered and, no one seems to think it’s weird that it also has such a low albedo. At 0.1, it’s practically black. So we’re talking about the only interstellar object ever discovered in our solar system and it only just happens to be an almost perfect monolith a la Space Odyssey, just tumbling through space. If that doesn’t at least make one wonder …

Also, going back to the issue at hand, people make the same claim about SETI all the time: That it has a very low probability of success or that it's a "fringe possibility". On what grounds do they make those claims? We simply don’t have enough data to know. All we really know is that we probably haven’t seen any messages yet.
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Old 18 December 2017, 02:40 PM
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Where did you see that it is an almost perfect monolith with the same x and y dimnetions? Every description simply says that it is 10 times as long as wide, nothing about the third dimension. And the shape is described as "complex, convoluted", hardly what I'd call an almost perfect monolith. Also, an albedo of 0.1 is that of dark soil or worn asphalt pavement, hardly close to black (descriptions say it is dark red).
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  #13  
Old 18 December 2017, 08:26 PM
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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ʻOumuamua

Monolith may not be the right word but it’s more elongated than anything we’ve seen in our own system. The albedo wouldn’t be that interesting except that it has a very long (i.e. infinite) orbit and what we see entering our solar system from that far out are typically (as in always) comet-like objects, not the metallic asteroids. So at the very least this is a very dark object for its class.

Its our very first close contact with another solar system. It probably has no relation to any other life out there (based only on WAG because, again, we have no info on them) but it’s still the most interesting astronomical object we’ve seen in a long time, IMO. Even if it already didn't have interesting features, it's one of a kind.
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Old 18 December 2017, 08:49 PM
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My question, that I have not seen an answer to yet, is how long is it going to take to pass through our system? Any chance at all that somebody could get a probe to pass by it before it passes by our Sol system? Or is it too far out and|or moving to fast to do that?
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Old 18 December 2017, 08:59 PM
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According to the wiki page (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%CA%BBOumuamua) it doesn't look like much chance of catching it. Its closest approach to the sun was in September 2017 and it is already more than one AU from the sun. It is moving really fast (though slowing) but it'll be gone in a couple years. It would take a lot of effort to get a probe designed, built and launched and it would require incredible good luck that the object is on an accessible trajectory.

And I'm not sure if the American psyche could handle something as idiom shat erring as discovery evidence of life other than on earth. The Turnip and proof of aliens at the same time would be just too much.
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Old 19 December 2017, 01:04 AM
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Speaking of trajectories, another interesting thing is how close it passed to the Sun, almost as if intending to use it to slingshot somewhere else. This can also be explained by the fact that it's also probably what brought it to our attention and that other such object may pass through further away without being noticed. So probably (based on what we have - WAG) just coincidence and circumstance.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:C...025-16_gif.gif

But it's intriguing to imagine how an interstellar craft or probe might navigate by using stars, exactly in this way, that is, exactly as our own spacecraft use the outer planets to get far beyond them. One can even imagine a probe sent to other star systems returning to its origin by using them. It would be interesting to see if it's headed toward any nearby star system. If it's really close, well, I think it's worth imagining even more!
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Old 19 December 2017, 09:03 AM
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I thought 0.1 was dark but it's not particularly for an asteroid. About 1/4 of asteroids are even much darker.

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Originally Posted by iskinner View Post
Any chance at all that somebody could get a probe to pass by it before it passes by our Sol system? Or is it too far out and|or moving to fast to do that?
Someone did a real nice study of that. I guess what they're saying is if we really stepped on it with our current tech and systems we have a good chance but it seems unlikely to happen. (I didn't read in detail, though ostensibly part of what I'm to do between clock punches - this was on my own time and the dirty dishes await...) The paper is here:
https://arxiv.org/abs/1711.03155
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Old 19 December 2017, 01:40 PM
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According to the paper, we could intercept another such object but it is unlikely we could intercept this one. If we had a probe and propulsion vehicle ready in 5-10 years (pretty quick AIUI) we'd be intercepting it at least 100 AU away from the Earth. That distance is where the Voyager probes are right now, and communication with them is tricky at best. A better idea is to prepare a probe for the next object to come by, then we would just have the mission prep time before we could launch it, instead of having the entire design, test, redesign, etc, prep time.
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Old 18 January 2018, 12:32 AM
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Nice faq on the object:
https://www.nasa.gov/planetarydefense/faq/interstellar
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Old 18 January 2018, 04:34 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ganzfeld View Post
Speaking of trajectories, another interesting thing is how close it passed to the Sun, almost as if intending to use it to slingshot somewhere else. This can also be explained by the fact that it's also probably what brought it to our attention and that other such object may pass through further away without being noticed.
From the JPL information, it was spotted when it was about 20 million miles from Earth, very close in astronomical terms. Without the sun lighting it, we probably would not have spotted it farther out. So we may have missed many others that weren't so close.
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