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Unusual Visitor: A Deeper Look at ‘Oumuamua

21 Nov 2017, 14:11 UTC
Unusual Visitor: A Deeper Look at ‘Oumuamua ESO/M. Kornmesser
(200 words excerpt, click title or image to see full post)

When I first wrote about the interstellar interloper now called ‘Oumuamua, I made reference to Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama because of the delightful symmetry between the novel and the object, though noting that ‘we’re unlikely to find that A/2017 U1 is as intriguing as Clarke’s mysterious starship bound for the Magellanics’ (see An Interstellar Visitor?). Still, an interstellar object entering the Solar System only to go careening back out of it could not help but recall Clarke, whose ‘asteroid’ 31/439 wound up being artificial.

Then came the paper from Karen Meech (University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy, where the object was first detected with the Pan-STARRS1 telescope). Drawing on data from telescopes around the world, Meech’s team has been able to characterize our first nearby object from another stellar system, with equally delightful results. For it turns out that ‘Oumuamua (pronounced oh MOO-uh MOO-uh) has an unusual axis ratio, being about ten times longer than it is wide. Jim Benford couldn’t resist suggesting I show a cover from Rendezvous with Rama depicting just such an axis ratio, and I agreed wholeheartedly.
Any science fiction fan familiar with Clarke (and are there any who aren’t?) will have fun ...

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