back to article From Vega with love: Pegasus interstellar asteroid's next stop

It's official: the Asteroid 1I/2017 U1, aka "‘Oumuamua", which screamed through the solar system in October 2017 is an interstellar object. And a very strange one at that.* The 400 metre long asteroid is moving fast – 38.3 km/second is its current sun-relative velocity – and has already passed Mars' orbit after sling-shotting …

  1. corestore

    Oh sh!t!!!

    It's the Pak!

    1. Empire of the Pussycat

      Re: Oh sh!t!!!

      i checked with phssthpok, he says it's pronounced "yo mama"

    2. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: Oh sh!t!!!

      Since when are Pak driving around Mon Calamari cruisers?

      This look suspiciously like a remnant of a long fought battle in a Galaxy far, far away which has been disabled and left to float unattended.

  2. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge
    Unhappy

    I wish we were able to examine it. Such an endeavour would have required a small automated science craft, atop of a very powerful rocket, ready for launch at a very short notice. IMO it is unlikely our governments would choose to spend tax money this way, if they can buy votes instead ...

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      IMO it is unlikely our governments would choose to spend tax money this way, if they can buy votes instead ...

      We may need one. It is not a question of if, it is a question of when as the next one may be heading this way instead of slingshotting around the sun to go somewhere else.

      1. VinceH
        Alien

        Well, it's a well documented fact that the Ramans do things in threes.

        1. Dave 126 Silver badge

          Normally yeah, but in this case Rama has evidently decided we're not worth braking for!

          1. Gary Lloyd 1
            Happy

            The Raman cylinder was exactly my first thought. What a brilliant Trilogy.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            The Ramans took a left turn at Albuquerque.

        2. lee harvey osmond

          yeah, but this thing has a light curve. Not a Rama-class spacecraft then.

        3. Stoneshop Silver badge
          Boffin

          Well, it's a well documented fact that the Ramans do things in threes.

          In one of the papers on this interstellar object, the authors estimate that there are about 1000 of these objects entering (and leaving) the Solar system per year, so about three per day.

          They're obviously interstellar buses, run by TfL.

          1. macjules Silver badge

            Re: Well, it's a well documented fact that the Ramans do things in threes.

            Meaning that they SHOULD be running at 187.3km/sec then?

          2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

            Re: Well, it's a well documented fact that the Ramans do things in threes.

            They're obviously interstellar buses, run by TfL.

            Nah. Too regular. I mean, when was the last time you saw a 107 bus? (AKA 1-0-seldom)..

            1. Stoneshop Silver badge
              Holmes

              Re: Well, it's a well documented fact that the Ramans do things in threes.

              Too regular.

              Three per day *on average* does in no way indicate *regular*. Especially not where TfL is involved.

          3. Roj Blake Silver badge

            Re: Well, it's a well documented fact that the Ramans do things in threes.

            You wait millennia for an interstellar asteroid, and then three come along in a single day...

      2. Mark 85 Silver badge

        We may need one. It is not a question of if, it is a question of when as the next one may be heading this way instead of slingshotting around the sun to go somewhere else.

        There probably will be more since this is probably the scout ship...

    2. Smooth Newt
      Happy

      I wish we were able to examine it.

      I wish we were able to examine it. Such an endeavour would have required a small automated science craft, atop of a very powerful rocket, ready for launch at a very short notice. IMO it is unlikely our governments would choose to spend tax money this way, if they can buy votes instead

      I think these objects are rather common, it is just that only within the last few years have astronomers had the motivation and equipment to look for small objects outside of the solar system's orbital plane. Computer simulations of the Oort cloud show that the majority of comets are ejected from it, and it most solar systems have an Oort cloud, then interstellar space must be teeming with comets. So, a bit like buses, there will be another one along in a minute.

      1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Re: I wish we were able to examine it.

        then interstellar space must be teeming with comets

        Which will be a bit of a bummer if your NAFAL craft runs into it at .9c

        I suspect we'd see the resultant explosion here.

    3. hplasm Silver badge
      Unhappy

      I wish...

      "Such an endeavour would have required a small automated science craft, atop of a very powerful rocket, ready for launch at a very short notice"

      they do have may many of these- where the science involves fission/fusion airburst experiments...

    4. MrXavia

      Wouldn't it be better to sit a few small probes at a the Legrange points with ion drives ready for missions like this?

      If they were designed right, they could give plenty of science bonus while in place and then be re-purposed for intercept missions such as this?

    5. Marketing Hack Silver badge

      Could we even intercept this object, moving at 38 KM/sec??

      Not a rocket scientist, but such a small body with no gravity well and moving at such speeds. I'd think the best we could do is a flyby, which hardly seems worth it.

      As for government spending, the majority of it goes to social programs (pensions, healthcare, poverty alleviation), so it is going to be hard to convince pols to free up money from those programs.

    6. phuzz Silver badge

      "Such an endeavour would have required a small automated science craft, atop of a very powerful rocket"

      Either a very small probe indeed, or a more powerful rocket than we actually have. The only way we could get something up to similar speeds to this rock (or dormant spacecraft or whatever it is) would be with multiple gravity assists, which we don't have time for, and anyway, it's moving well outside the plane of the ecliptic, so you'll need a massive plane change manoeuvrer as well.

      Basically, there was no way we could get anywhere near this, even if we'd know a couple of years in advance.

  3. hekla
    Pint

    Quite fast

    The speed at perihelion was 0.03% of c

    1. Stoneshop Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: Quite fast

      Bah[0] It's a mere 1.4009 percent of the maximum speed of a sheep in a vacuum.

      [0] or baaaah.

    2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: Quite fast

      The speed at perihelion was 0.03% of c

      Far too slow to get us to Proxima Centauri by next Tuesday. Especially as time-dilation isn't (much) of a factor at those speeds so you're gonna have to live through every looooong year..

  4. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

    To be honest...

    The pic looks more like a Sperm whale that has suddenly been called into existence several miles above the surface of an alien planet.

    And since this is not a naturally tenable position for a whale, this poor innocent creature has very little time to come to terms with its identity as a whale before it then has to come to terms with not being a whale any more.

    1. MyffyW Silver badge

      Re: To be honest...

      I'll be happy with the petunias.

    2. no-one in particular
      Thumb Up

      Re: To be honest...

      I was going to upvote you, then I spotted you'd reached 42 upvotes and I just couldn't disturb that!

      Please accept a virtual upvote.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    “‘Oumuamua varies in brightness by a factor of ten as it spins on its axis every 7.3 hours”

    Anyone know how the axis is oriented relative to the tube?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The article says "‘Oumuamua varies in brightness by a factor of ten as it spins on its axis every 7.3 hours”.

      To me that suggests it is going end over end like a spinning knife - and the viewing angle is approximately end on. Maximum brightness when all of one side is visible - minimum when only a tip.

    2. cray74

      Anyone know how the axis is oriented relative to the tube?

      Just on principles: A highly elongated structure is generally more stable tumbling end over end rather than around one of its minor axes.

      1. frank ly

        This would give simulated gravity at each end, in the hollowed out living quarters.

        1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

          This would give simulated gravity at each end, in the hollowed out living quarters.

          Like around: 1E-4 G?

          You need it spinning at ~ 0.5 rpm or thereabouts for it to be usable for artificial gravity (it is quite funny to see all the sci-fi trying to simulate artificial gravity as they never spin it to anything near the speed you need to get anywhere with it).

          1. cbars

            0.5 rpm?

            At what radius?

            I have not checked your maths, but your reference to sci-fi leads me to believe you are saying that is the threshold - apologies if you've taken the trouble to work that out for the object; the BBC article said yesterday that they have not been able to work out the exact dimensions.

            It's been a while but I'm pretty sure we need to multiply the radius from the centre of mass to give you the force (for a constant period). The same number of rotations per minute translate to higher forces for long objects :)

            1. stephanh

              please check my math

              ω : angular velocity (in rad/s)

              r : radius (in m)

              a : acceleration (in m/s²)

              r = 200 m (= half of 400m)

              ω = 1 rotation per 7.3 hours = 2.39-04 rad/s

              a = rω² = 1.14e-05 m/s² = 1.17e-6 G

              Micro-gravity indeed.

    3. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Anyone know how the axis is oriented relative to the tube?

      Go here and watch the video... https://www.nasa.gov/feature/solar-system-s-first-interstellar-visitor-dazzles-scientists

  6. jake Silver badge

    One wonders ...

    ... how long it'll be before we have the technology to catch up with it and give it a good going over. One also wonders what we may have learned, if we had that technology today. Methinks the human race has lost a marvelous opportunity that we may well never get back.

    During the meanwhile, we wasted all that money on what, exactly?

    (Don't bother answering, I already know, and I'm depressed enough as it is.)

    1. Peter2 Silver badge

      Re: One wonders ...

      Roughly never would be my guess as to when we might catch up with it. However, it's pretty much at the limit of the speed needed to leave the solar system, so it might end up being captured and in orbit around the sun, in which case we'd thereotically be able to send a probe.

      The fastest man made objects are the Vogager probes which are doing about 17KPS, having taken advantage of a once every ~200 year alignment of the planets to gravity boost past every one of the planets in the outer solar system. This obviously is also limited to going in the direction the planets are aligned, rather than the direction that you might want to go, such as after a chunk of rock that's come from outside our system doing 40KPS.

      Realistically, there will be plenty more opportunities at similar things. We've only been seriously tracking things in the system much smaller than planets for the last 50 odd years so who knows how many things will show up in the next few hundred years?

      1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

        Re: One wonders ...

        A solar sail and/or ion drives and some nuclear power/solar power can help get to just about any speed until you run out of fuel.

        However, they don't do so "fast", and when it comes to rendezvous you either need to plan ahead (no chance here as we saw it too late), or go faster!

        I suggest (as always) purchasing Kerbal Space Program if possible, and having a go with the "Toy" sized solar system, but very much "real" type physics problems involved with building space craft.

      2. S4qFBxkFFg

        Re: One wonders ...

        XKCD did a rough calculation of what would be needed to get Voyager 1 back - the illustration summarises it well:

        https://what-if.xkcd.com/imgs/a/38/voyager_comparison.png

    2. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: One wonders ...

      By the time we have the technology to chase it we will be able to give it a going over from afar. I would imagine a moon base alfalfa (they will be growing their own) will be able to give it a fairly hefty whack with a laser or three and get a good idea of its make-up. Chasing it and attempting to land might prove a little more expensive and not much more illuminating.

      1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

        Re: One wonders ...

        will be able to give it a fairly hefty whack with a laser

        Do not complain after that when the near-C railgun missiles start hitting Earth. We opened fire first.

    3. Gary Lloyd 1
      Unhappy

      Re: One wonders ...

      Couldnt help reading that last bit as Marvin.

  7. 0laf Silver badge
    Alien

    Too small to be Rama :-(

  8. Sane

    Set the controls for the heart of... no, no, not this sun, that one over there

    I still enjoy listening to Oumuamua once in a while. It is remarkable how well the first half has survived its extraordinarily long journey, probably because it is indeed metal rich. Just a shame it doesn't have an Interstellar Overdrive.

    1. Muscleguy Silver badge

      Re: Set the controls for the heart of... no, no, not this sun, that one over there

      Careful with that axe Eugene.

      1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Re: Set the controls for the heart of... no, no, not this sun, that one over there

        Might lead to Brain Damage..

  9. Rich 11 Silver badge
    Alien

    A shot in the dark

    when it exits the solar system it will be heading for the Pegasus constellation

    If it should hit anyone lets hope they don't think that we sent it.

  10. YeahRight

    Wake up sheeple!

    https://www.amazon.co.uk/Rama-Omnibus-Complete-ebook/dp/B005XBUEWA/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1511257273&sr=8-1&keywords=rama

    Seriously though, what are the chances of an asteroid travelling that far and not falling into the sun, and not just continuing on past it. It's almost like it was very carefully planned

    1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

      Re: Wake up sheeple!

      Not many things fall "into" the sun. You need to loose gravity when already moving/in orbit. Thus it takes more energy to do so.

      We are already not in orbit/hurtling through space relative to the earth. So "falling" towards the earth is easy for us... but do we fall towards the sun? Slowly, while in orbit along with the earth... but we are moving so fast, we "miss" the sun each year.

      Likewise, this object is hurtling through space, the sun is tiny, compared to the 360 degree space of choosing any angle to aim for. (An example of this, look into the sky, while we may be able to pinpoint stars, to "aim" at one requires effort).

      So the object will go somewhere around the solar system, but "hitting" something is a low chance. Being deflected by gravity of the sun and planets is very high chance, and generally things get flung out (see dark matter and Galaxy halos... though both still unexplained fully).

      1. TechnicalBen Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: Correction.

        Sorry, that should be "You need to lose momentum" not "loose gravity"... (though under some forms of GR I'm sure it makes sense ;) ). that's what I get for posting tired and on my mobile. :D

    2. 0laf Silver badge
      Alien

      Re: Wake up sheeple!

      "Seriously though, what are the chances of an asteroid travelling that far and not falling into the sun, and not just continuing on past it. It's almost like it was very carefully planned".

      That a big extrapolation from one example. Maybe a thousand have fallen into the sun this week. We just haven't seen them. Expectation is that newer methods of scanning the sky will mean we should be spotting a lot more interstellar visitors in the coming years

      1. Muscleguy Silver badge

        Re: Wake up sheeple!

        Indeed and what was the comet that hit Jupiter? Halle-Bop? We watched that and got science out of it. If Jupiter can be hit so can the sun.

  11. steelpillow Silver badge
    WTF?

    spinners

    Another interpretation would be a roughly spherical rock of very dark colour, but with a bright red stripe on it. That could account for the brightness variation, and the only way of distinguishing it from the baguette model would be timing stellar occultations which, for whatever reason, does not seem to have been done.

    1. TechnicalBen Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: spinners

      Are you saying it has a "go fast" stripe painted on it?

    2. Christoph Silver badge

      Re: spinners

      Or a dish shaped depression on the side of a sphere, that focuses reflected light towards us.

      But what kind of object would have a shape like that?

      1. hplasm Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: spinners

        "But what kind of object would have a shape like that?"

        Mimas?

      2. Muscleguy Silver badge

        Re: spinners

        If you drive from Dunedin, New Zealand across the Taieri plains and up and over the rock and pillar range as you descend towards Middlemarch in the Strathtaieri plain there is a large spherical looking boulder on the right of the road. Except it has been hollowed out by the prevailing wind and is dish shaped inside. Just one of the quite impressive rock outcrops which gives the range its name.

        I understand that these days they run cross country skiing trips on the tops which are fairly flat to rolling with gullies.

        There are mountain wetas up there (giant flightless crickets) which freeze solid in the winter then thaw out and wake up again quite happily.

    3. Fink-Nottle

      Re: spinners

      > Another interpretation would be a roughly spherical rock of very dark colour, but with a bright red stripe on it.

      So ... possibly a core of cork, layers of tightly wound string, and covered by a leather case with a slightly raised sewn seam?

      1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Re: spinners

        So ... possibly a core of cork, layers of tightly wound string, and covered by a leather case with a slightly raised sewn seam?

        I say, that's simply not cricket!

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Earth shard

    It's the same colour as most of the objects in the Oort cloud, it's a shard shape quite possibly formed by impact and flung out into deep space... it's from here not there.

    1. Uncle Slacky Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: Earth shard

      Possible but very unlikely, based on flight path analysis:

      https://arxiv.org/abs/1711.05735

      "Here we investigate the possibility that the asteroid 1I/2017 U1 actually is a Solar System object, currently expelled from the Solar System by the recent encounter with a Solar System planet. We show that this possibility is extremely unlikely and that 1I/2017 U1 really is an interstellar object."

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Earth shard

        From your source:

        "In conclusion, unless one invokes the existence of another, yet unknown, planet on

        the path of the asteroid assumed to come from the Solar System, one is forced to

        conclude that the latter came directly from the interstellar space."

        There is something very large beyond the Oort cloud which causes much damage each time it ventures closer sunward - it's orbit, mass and nature are unknown. It could even be a brown dwarf. This is a shard from a large shattered mass flung far out long ago.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Earth shard

          Never underestimate random. Objects in the Oort cloud are flung out regularly due to nonlinear dynamics, a combination of which could have led to this impact shard result and the highly unusual orbit.

  13. Stanislaw
    Happy

    So Much For Subtlety

    Just a GSV having a larf, I expect.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: So Much For Subtlety

      not a GSV, more likely a ROU

      1. Missing Semicolon

        xSo Much For Subtlety

        oA Complete Lack of Gravitas

        Wow! They actually looked at me this time!

        Perhaps we'd better keep an eye on this lot now...

  14. getHandle

    Looks like a Kinetic Harpoon

    Ha - missed!

  15. Tigra 07 Silver badge
    Pint

    "Oumuamua"

    Is that pronounced as "Yo momma"?

    As in: "Yo Momma so fat she hurtling towards Vega like there's a buffet on"

  16. teknopaul Silver badge

    What about these interstellar mini spacecraft thingamabubs being proposed, could you fire one of these with lasers towards it to ger a close up. Be good target practice.

  17. Roger Kynaston
    Joke

    Humpback Whales

    Perhaps it is the alien object that talks to humback whales. Just as well they haven't been hunted to extinction.

  18. DNTP

    Long and strong!

    Fast and metallic-classed!

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Can we not at least ping it with a powerful radar, like they did back in the Old Days to map Venus?

  20. unwarranted triumphalism

    Priorities

    Well it's good that we've solved all our Earthbound problems, now we can afford to go chasing after bits of space rock...

    1. James Hughes 1

      Re: Priorities

      FFS.

  21. Andy The Hat Silver badge

    Humph.

    Based on the confirmed accuracy of the long distance imaging of 67/P, the object probably looks like George from Rainbow ...

    1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: Humph.

      George from Rainbow

      Not Zippy? Or is he too busy emulating Josh Widdicombe?

  22. nil0

    My God, it's full of stars

    > Astronomers have also said the object is ten times as long as it is wide

    1:4:9 ?

  23. A Long Fellow

    Apparently…

    …what happens in Vega doesn't stay in Vega.

  24. tony2heads

    welcome home Red Dwarf !

    so you overshot the target, wake up Holly

  25. DubyaG

    Atmosphere

    I love the jokes, but this piqued my interest: "metallic atmospheres (titanium, for example), "

    Who can speak to that? I can only think of exceedingly hot places as we're talking vaporized metal here.

  26. Chemical Bob
    Happy

    Ooooh!

    A giant Space Turd!

  27. F111F

    SGU's Destiny

    Making a fuel pass...?

  28. duhmb

    Anomolous cigar shaped metallic object enters solar system....

    And spinning on its long axis. AND doing a slingshot...Aahhhh come on... the minute i read the article i thought it was an sf plot. Is anyone making a movie of RAMA? Could just be publicity...

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    From Vega with Love

    Isn't that where vegans come from?

  30. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    It's a fidget spinner. It's a smeggin' fidget spinner!

  31. Overflowing Stack

    Cigar shaped or rocket shaped?

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