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On ‘Oumuamua

13 Mar 2019, 00:49 UTC
On ‘Oumuamua
(200 words excerpt, click title or image to see full post)

‘Oumuamua slipped our grasp.

With JPL’s mission design tool, one can scroll wistfully through a fine-grained list of opportunities lost — a spaceport departure board overflowing with missed flights, all to a single exotic destination.

What could have been -- 2017-era economy-class tickets to 'Oumuamua.

By any measure, ‘Oumuamua imparted an influence that exceeded its size. Its approximately 260-meter greatest extent is dwarfed by the recently visited 2014 MU69.

Which itself is not very large.

It’s interesting to look at the Google Trends listing for worldwide interest in ‘Oumuamua.

In mid-November 2017, a two-lobed burst of interest surrounded first the naming and then the release of ESO’s iconic artist’s impression of a menacing starship-like shard. A barely perceptible blip followed last Summer’s announcement that ‘Oumuamua’s trajectory was non-Keplerian, and then, in Fall 2018, boom, a veritable megastructure of attention.

‘Oumuamua’s visit was short enough so that the data obtained (mostly in the five compressed weeks following its initial discovery) is readily summarized. Our first detected interstellar visitor arrived with almost exactly the speed and direction that one would guess a priori for an object having the average local orbit in the disk of the Milky Way. In a sense, ...

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