back to article Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a giant alien space cigar? Whatever it is, boffins are baffled

'Oumuamua, the odd elongated cigar-shaped interstellar object zipping through the Solar System, continues to flummox scientists. What is that thing? At first, there were a group of fantasists who believed it was an alien starship. Those claims were quickly debunked by researchers who classified it as an interstellar asteroid …

  1. SonofRojBlake

    "Oumuamua is an extremely rare object, and is believed to be the Solar System’s first interstellar visitor to pass through."

    ... that we've noticed.

    The chances of it actually being the first are essentially nil.

    1. Roj Blake Silver badge

      Son? Is that you?

    2. Kane Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Ahem....

      <Pedant Alert=True>

      I think you'll find that the actual quote is:

      "Oumuamua is an extremely rare object, and is believed to be the Solar System’s first interstellar visitor to be seen passing through."

      So your sentence "... that we've noticed." is redundant.

      <Pedant Alert=False>

      Carry on.

      1. Not also known as SC
        Coat

        Re: Ahem....

        even bigger pedant alert!

        "Oumuamua is an extremely rare object, and is believed to be the Solar System’s first interstellar visitor to be seen passing through."

        As light is made from photons which are considered particles (from a particle physics point of view) we have seen numerous interstellar visitors - billions every second - albeit very small visitors.

        .

        1. John Mangan

          Re: Ahem....

          Even more pedanrtry:

          "interstellar visitor to be seen passing through."

          Photons that are seen haven't passed through. They've stayed.

          1. Not also known as SC
            Unhappy

            Re: Ahem....

            "Photons that are seen haven't passed through. They've stayed."

            Bugger!

            1. Rich 11 Silver badge

              Re: Ahem....

              Goddamn interstellar immigrants, flooding our space with their electromagnetic fields...

              1. Chairo

                Re: Ahem....

                What's more - they come in waves.

                1. DropBear Silver badge
                  Trollface

                  Re: Ahem....

                  That Dyson sphere wall suddenly sounds a lot better innit...

              2. ravenviz Silver badge

                Re: Ahem....

                “Comin’ over here with its scientific enigma”

          2. Jtom Bronze badge

            Re: Ahem....

            But from a slightly different interpretation: the photons that are seen are captured by electrons, and no longer exist. So they have indeed passed on. I would say, may they RIP, but they never rest.

    3. Sujan Azad Parikh

      Yes, true first interstellar object to be viewed by humans.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I don't think we should discount the space dildo theory yet.

    1. StevieB
      Alien

      Probing questions must be asked!

      According to this,

      https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/jun/27/space-is-full-of-dirty-toxic-grease-scientists-reveal

      it comes pre-lubed for your pleasure!

    2. Omgwtfbbqtime Silver badge

      Is it a Culture ship?

      Ulver laughed. "It looks," she snorted, "like a dildo!" "That's appropriate," Curt Lyne said. "Armed, it can fuck solar systems."

      (describing the Psychopath Class ex-ROU Frank Exchange of Views)

      Excession - Iain M Banks.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      If it really is dildo shaped (believed to be approx 235m x 35m) then I can't see how it could possibly be a comet because comets form by accretion in a low-gravity environment and are poorly consolidated, and with those proportions and tumbling end-over-end, it wouldn't be able to hold itself together by its own gravity.

      The only place that I can think of, where the material could be sufficiently consolidated to hold itself together, would be on a rocky planet, which suggests that it might be a fragment of a destroyed planet or, more probably, a planetesimal in a forming planetary system around a young star, where and when collisions between planetesimals are believed to be common.

      1. ravenviz Silver badge

        Having walked in UK mountains for practically all of my adult life, there are nice examples of long, thin obelisk-type rock fragments around, some many metres in length e.g. the frost-swept summits of Welsh Glyderau, shattered by freeze-thaw since well before the last ice age.

    4. Chris G Silver badge

      'I don't think we should discount the space dildo theory yet.'

      In that case at 235M X 35M we really don't want to upset the owners.

      1. phuzz Silver badge

        "In that case at 235M X 35M we really don't want to upset the owners."

        Or we could try selling them an oil tanker or two, they're probably the right size...

      2. harmjschoonhoven

        Re: 'I don't think we should discount the space dildo theory yet.'

        In that case at 235M X 35M we really don't want to upset the owners users. FTFY.

  3. Thoguht Silver badge
    Alien

    "Unexpectedly, we found that Oumuamua was not slowing down as much as it should have due to just gravitational forces"

    Well duh, that's because its EmDrive was still working, of course.

  4. nuked
    Holmes

    Poop

    Finally, the great space turd mystery of 1969 has been solved

    https://www.vox.com/2015/5/26/8646675/apollo-10-turd-poop

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge
      Angel

      Re: Poop

      Not sure about that as it's quite a big larger than one would expect from a mere human. But you might be right about it being poop, after all, there have been in the past "giants" called Nephilim (per Genesis, KJV) and if we look at "there's an element of truth behind every legend" then... this is the poop of giants or maybe a very, very large dog..

  5. Oengus Silver badge

    Rama

    We have discovered Rama. Now we need to organise a "Rendezvous with Rama"...

    1. Ian Emery Silver badge

      Re: Rama

      We have plenty of time; they do everything in three's.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Rama

        But is it 1, 2 or 3? We need people out in space to check such things.

        1. picturethis
          Joke

          Re: Rama

          "But is it 1, 2 or 3?"

          Obviously it's "1". Just look at its shape.

          1. Martin Budden

            Re: Rama

            Number one would be a stream of droplets.

            This is clearly a number two (see the Poop discussion above).

            I hope I'm not still around when number three arrives!

  6. Matthew Smith

    Please be full of sexy naked space vampires. Please. Please.

    1. nuked
      Paris Hilton

      Must. Not. Google...

    2. Spasticus Autisticus

      Werepires - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gE80Mdv7eTs

      Not particularly NSFW - depends where you work :-)

      1. GIRZiM
        Happy

        Re: werepires

        Best thing I've seen in a while - thanks!

    3. tiggity Silver badge

      Ah, lifeforce, film of gratuitous nudity

      1. DropBear Silver badge

        Why was I not notified that Oglaf is on YouTube?!? Outrageous!!!

  7. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Logically if a comet makes enough passes near the sun....

    All it's gas making stuff is burned off.

    But I thought comets are either "rocky snowballs" with a mix of various ices and rock lumps, or a rocky core wrapped in an ice layer.

    So the egg shape would seem to be the real mystery here.

    Of course if this thing really has been in interstellar space getting some samples off its surface (or some detailed surface analysis) would seem like quite a good idea.

    1. Stoneshop Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: Logically if a comet makes enough passes near the sun....

      Of course if this thing really has been in interstellar space getting some samples off its surface (or some detailed surface analysis) would seem like quite a good idea.

      Maybe the next one if we spot it coming in, and manage to get Bruce Willis out of his cryo container and defrosted in time. For this one you'll need a mighty fast rocket just to catch up with it, and then there's the getting it back.

  8. Andy The Hat Silver badge
    Happy

    Slight correction ...

    I believe the text of the article should read:

    "At first, there were a group who believed it was an alien starship. Those claims were quickly debunked by researchers who classified the group as completely bonkers."

  9. Alister Silver badge

    At first, there were a group of fantasists who believed it was an alien starship. Those claims were quickly debunked by researchers who classified it as an interstellar asteroid

    Those researchers are going to look bloody stupid when First Contact happens...

  10. Aaiieeee
    Angel

    "It is still a tiny and weird object"

    Its not so tiny when it lands on this persons house. Especially if its upset at being called weird

  11. Chronos Silver badge

    Comets

    Slight correction: It's not Sol's heat that sublimes off bits of comets to form the tail, it's the solar wind, that constant stream of highly energetic particles from which the Earth's magnetic field largely protects we humble Terrans. This is why, regardless of direction of travel of the body, the tail will always point away from the local star.

    1. Symon Silver badge
      Alien

      Re: Comets

      "It's not Sol's heat that sublimes off bits of comets"

      Nope. The Sun heats up the comet. That drives off gases and dust with it. Then the solar wind blows that stuff away from the object, as you say, directly away from the Sun, forming the tail.

      http://burro.astr.cwru.edu/Academics/Astr221/SolarSys/Flotsam/comettail.html

      "Comet tails come in two flavors: the ion tail and the dust tail. The ion tail is thin, blue and linear - points directly away from the Sun. The dust tail is white, broad and points generally (but not precisely) away from the Sun. The ion tail is made up of ions (surprise!) - mostly CO+, N2+, CO2+. As the comet comes into the inner solar system, the Sun's radiation heats up the nucleus, "boiling off" and ionizing these gases. These ions are electrically charged particles, and interact with the sun's solar wind (charged particles coming from the sun). The interaction between the comet and the solar wind distorts magnetic field lines, causing a cometary magnetotail which points away from the Sun. The charged ions stream along the magnetic field lines in the magnetotail, so the ion tail always points away from the Sun. CO+ absorbs sunlight and fluoresces, emitting energy at a wavelength of 4200 Angstroms, which is blue light."

      1. lglethal Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: Comets

        Your both right. Heat is transferred away from the sun in the forms of direct energy and high energy particles.

        The impact from the particles causes localised heating (think of it as little explosions or perhaps better, think of it as a missile hitting a target - the missile might be small and the target big, but it does transfer a lot of energy!). This heating is dependent on the local strength of the solar wind.

        The direct energy from the Sun is gentler but constant. Light radiation interacting with the particles causes heating exactly like what ahppens every day on Earth.

        Which of these two is dominant depends on how far from the sun you are (as direct energy tapers off via the inverse square law), and how strong the local solar wind is.

        1. Symon Silver badge
          Coat

          Re: Comets

          Here's some actual physics numbers!

          The energy flux in the solar wind at 1 AU is about 1.5mW/m^2 at 1AU.

          https://arxiv.org/pdf/1203.1316.pdf (See para. 3.1)

          The energy in solar radiation at 1AU, i.e. heat, is 1.4kW/m^2.

          https://hypertextbook.com/facts/1998/ManicaPiputbundit.shtml

          That's 6 orders of magnitude difference. Comets' tails sublimation is almost completely down to heating by electromagnetic radiation from the Sun. So, when the dust and gas get heated off the comet, the pressure of the solar wind, which is a tiny 1–6 nPa (1–6×10−9 N/m2) at 1AU, is enough to slowly move the stuff away from the comet, but all the dust and gas is still orbiting the Sun as well. Relative to the comet the tail appears to be pointing directly away from the Sun, but it's all still going round the Sun as well, of course.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_wind#Pressure

          Way out in the depths of the solar system, where stuff is so cold, say 50K, that the vapour pressure of the comet is tiny, the main loss of mass is still the tiny sublimation pressure from the solar heat that causes some gas to be emitted by the comet, that in turn, solar wind can blow away.

          https://www.nist.gov/sites/default/files/documents/srd/jpcrd402011New.pdf

        2. Tom Paine Silver badge

          Re: Comets

          Sputtering.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Board

    I still think it's the Silver Surfer's board.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    But if it is tumbling, how does off-gassing produce a net force in any particular direction to accelerate the object? Or is it proposed that the off-gassing is causing the tumbling?

  14. adam payne Silver badge

    Oumuamua, the odd elongated cigar-shaped interstellar object zipping through the Solar System, continues to flummox scientists.

    It's OK, there's still some humpback whales left so no need to panic.

  15. detuur

    Baffled boffins buffalo over broad boulder

    And they're bummed it's not bigger.

  16. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Happy

    It's obvious

    We weren't sufficiently frightened when 'they' sent the rubber duck.

    1. DropBear Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: It's obvious

      Well, duh - if you want that kind of message sent, it's well known there is a BDSM-styled version of the ducky, that's the one you send...

  17. RobThBay

    Maybe they'll stop by and pick up that gaseous object the yanks voted in for Prez.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      What, you mean the President whose policies have resulted in the lowest unemployment of minorities ever recorded? Are you perhaps a r a c i s t?

      (I was called a r a c i s t everytime I criticized anything Obama did. What goes around, comes around.

  18. Tom Paine Silver badge
    Alien

    Hayabusa 2

    Any chance of another story on Jaxa's Hayabusa 2, which has rendezvoused with Ra, er, Ryugu?

    https://www.upi.com/JAXA-probe-Hayabusa-2-rendezvous-with-asteroid-Ryugu/6201530116820/

  19. 89724102172714582892514I7751670349743096734346773478647892349863592355648544996312855148587659264921

    Is Uranus outgassing?

  20. Marketing Hack Silver badge
    Alien

    Oumuamua--it's an egg....

    I know this, so why don't those nerdy astronomers??

  21. Kevin Johnston

    The amazing thing about El Reg's comments is the level of education in the comment fields. Sometimes people clearly explain less common areas of science and nature...

    and sometimes they are ripped to shreds for minor errors by people who are in turn shredded for their own errors.

    Entertainment at every level

  22. FrankAlphaXII Silver badge

    "Space Situational Awareness Near-Earth Object Coordination Centre"

    That's a mouthful. And here I thought the US Government, especially the Military and NASA, we're the worst about having excruciatingly long names for their subagencies.

  23. Pat Harkin

    "The team still haven’t detected any signs of dust or a tail"

    Glad to read it isn't drawing a green mist behind it...

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