You Won't Believe What Aliens Have Done In The Outer Solar System!
August 11, 2016 1:58 PM   Subscribe

There's something weird going on beyond Neptune - A mysterious object has been discovered with an inexplicable orbit.
posted by marienbad (53 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
 
Get the whales.
posted by Faint of Butt at 2:00 PM on August 11, 2016 [25 favorites]


I am ready to believe
posted by Golem XIV at 2:02 PM on August 11, 2016 [3 favorites]


I read Lucifer's Hammer for the first time only a few months ago, this has got me a little nervous.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:03 PM on August 11, 2016 [19 favorites]


You spin me right round, baby, right round, going the wrong way, right round, wrong way...
posted by I-baLL at 2:04 PM on August 11, 2016 [4 favorites]


Well, I think we all owe Immanuel Velikovsky an apology...
posted by Naberius at 2:04 PM on August 11, 2016 [9 favorites]


It's the fithp.
posted by bshort at 2:12 PM on August 11, 2016 [6 favorites]


Rama.
posted by rp at 2:14 PM on August 11, 2016 [16 favorites]


What the hell is Elon Musk up to now?
posted by mondo dentro at 2:16 PM on August 11, 2016 [11 favorites]


It suggests that there's more going on in the outer solar system than we're fully aware of

Well, there's a safe statement.
posted by wildblueyonder at 2:16 PM on August 11, 2016 [50 favorites]


Sounds like the Grebulons haven't landed yet. No wonder New Horizons didn't detect them on Pluto.
posted by Greg_Ace at 2:17 PM on August 11, 2016


The New Scientist article is better. And the preprint, which is probably only of interest to subject experts.
posted by Nelson at 2:19 PM on August 11, 2016 [12 favorites]


why couldn't it be the remnants of a collision between something that was orbiting in the usual plane and some random passing junk?
posted by andrewcooke at 2:20 PM on August 11, 2016 [3 favorites]


One question I had is: if it is orbiting perpendicular to the plane how can it be going backwards, in the opposite direction?
posted by marienbad at 2:21 PM on August 11, 2016 [9 favorites]


I had the same question, that's some bad writing there.

Further along it says it's at 110 degrees, so not quite perpendicular. I guess at that point it can go "backwards"
posted by sauril at 2:23 PM on August 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


oh, so skimming the preprint (thanks), the unexplainable bit seems to be that there may be a plane of these objects that have stable orbits in some way (and it's odd that they are stable). i think. it all seems a bit of a stretch to me (that this plane really exists in the first place), but i don't know much.
posted by andrewcooke at 2:24 PM on August 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


Anyone else here making a mental note of exactly where you are and what you're doing so when the Overlords eventually do take over, we'll know what to tell our grandchildren?
posted by Mchelly at 2:34 PM on August 11, 2016 [3 favorites]


Not going to try to dig into that preprint, but the first thing that comes to mind for me is that this is some kind of captive object (or group of objects, I guess). Something that was floating through interstellar space for whatever reason and which happened to get close enough to the Sun that it got trapped in this orbit, not something that formed along with the rest of the solar system. I imagine we have very little information about how common such objects are, but they must exist.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 2:36 PM on August 11, 2016 [3 favorites]


I also enjoyed the other viral mystery object story this week, which looks something like a giant alien orb, floating in the sea near Australia, but turned out to be an exquisitely bloated whale corpse.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 2:36 PM on August 11, 2016 [5 favorites]


Please-- Planet 10. Pluto is Planet 9, dammit.
posted by Devils Rancher at 2:40 PM on August 11, 2016 [8 favorites]


It's all the fault of Planet 9 from Outer Space, apparently. Ed Wood was one smart cookie.
posted by kozad at 2:46 PM on August 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


This was on TV a couple of months ago in the UK, and although they played up the 'wow, weirdzville! teh science has no answers!'' angle as much as they could, they made the mistake of talking to too many planetary dynamicists who tended towards the 'yeah, really interesting, we're running some fun models of this' and if I remember correctly trying out various encounter/capture scenarios.

Given that the Sun has moved through a lot of space in the 4bn years since it was born (I haven't found a reference to how far, but the closest sibling star from the same stellar nursery is 110 ly distant) there's a good chance that it's had encounters capable of capturing objects with different orbital planes. Which would make them well worth a closer look. And I think there's even a strand of current thought that the spheres of influence of stars may regularly touch anyway - the edge of one Oort cloud region may well co-exist with another, to the extent that objects can be exchanged in the course of normal events.

Makes panspermia even more tempting to the fantasist in me, that does.
posted by Devonian at 2:47 PM on August 11, 2016 [4 favorites]


Does this have anything to do with the supposed alien megastructure that's steadily dimming the light coming from one particular star?
posted by acb at 2:48 PM on August 11, 2016 [4 favorites]


Further along it says it's at 110 degrees, so not quite perpendicular. I guess at that point it can go "backwards"

I think that's the basis for 'backwards' -- I mean, directly perpendicular would be 90° , so from whichever direction they decide is 0°, this is past perpendicular, which means it's now rotating opposite? I'm sure it's all a mathy way of the 'standard' way of describing orbits.
posted by AzraelBrown at 2:49 PM on August 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


The chances of anything coming from Niku are a million to one
posted by Damienmce at 2:53 PM on August 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


Although the majority of Centaurs are thought to have originated in the scattered disk,

I want to read an anthology of stories that all start with the same sentence fragment as that preprint
posted by theodolite at 2:53 PM on August 11, 2016 [19 favorites]


The one that mystifies me is Triton. It's in Neptune's spin plane but it orbits in the opposite direction. One thing that means is that it is spiraling in, albeit not very rapidly. It will eventually crash into the planet (unless they're destroyed when the Sun goes nova). But it also means it cannot have been formed out of Neptune's planetary nebula, or else it would be orbiting in the same direction as Neptune rotates.

The only way this could have happened is if Triton came from outside the solar system and had a substantial gravitational encounter with a moon of Neptune which was large and was going in the right direction. The encounter might have kicked the other body entirely out of the solar system. (OR... the other body might be Pluto.)

Venus is also a major mystery: it rotates in the opposite direction from everyone else. As far as I know no one has ever come up with an explanation for that. Uranus is also a mystery: its axial tilt is 98 degrees. (Ours is 23 degrees.)

I don't think the orbit of the body described in this post is really "inexplicable"; it can be explained as resulting from a close pass by a massive object, or many close passes over the course of billions of years. It doesn't have to be the result of a single encounter.

And we can't discount the possibility of relatively close encounters with stars. Right now the closest star is 4 light years away and is gravitationally irrelevant, but we've orbited the galactic core several times since the sun formed and there's been plenty of time for other stars to come near us without being so close as to totally disrupt our planetary system.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:13 PM on August 11, 2016 [17 favorites]


Nelson, thanks for those links. Those are the kind of filthy hard numbers that I'm looking for.
posted by PROD_TPSL at 3:16 PM on August 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


Theodolite, it sounds like the beginning of the next Discworld book, doesn't it?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:22 PM on August 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


andrewcooke: "oh, so skimming the preprint (thanks), the unexplainable bit seems to be that there may be a plane of these objects that have stable orbits in some way (and it's odd that they are stable)."


Yeah, exactly. I was wondering how they could tell that this object is orbiting the sun if they've only seen it once, but the Endgadget article says:
The team did, however, discover that Niku, which is estimated to be less than 200 kilometers in diameter, is actually a part of a group of objects, all of which are circling the sun backwards on the same 110-degree plane.
So it sounds like they found a group of them, all in the same plane, at different positions. Easy enough to infer possible orbits after that.


Devonian: "Given that the Sun has moved through a lot of space in the 4bn years since it was born (I haven't found a reference to how far, but the closest sibling star from the same stellar nursery is 110 ly distant) there's a good chance that it's had encounters capable of capturing objects with different orbital planes. Which would make them well worth a closer look."


Boy, it sure would! If this "Niku" and his companions are from another star, that makes them even more fascinating! You and I might never see another sun up close, but maybe we can see some extrasolar planetoids that are right here in the Solar System!
posted by Kevin Street at 3:41 PM on August 11, 2016 [3 favorites]


ALL THESE WORLDS
ARE YOURS EXCEPT
EUROPA
ATTEMPT NO
LANDING THERE
USE THEM TOGETHER
USE THEM IN PEACE
posted by juv3nal at 3:54 PM on August 11, 2016 [10 favorites]


Given that the Sun has moved through a lot of space in the 4bn years since it was born (I haven't found a reference to how far, but the closest sibling star from the same stellar nursery is 110 ly distant) there's a good chance that it's had encounters capable of capturing objects with different orbital planes.

~70,000 years ago, a red dwarf and its brown dwarf companion apparently grazed the Oort cloud:
The science team used the South African Large Telescope (SALT) and the Magellan telescope at Las Campanas Observatory in Chile to study the motion of the star. They then traced its path backward to its position 70,000 years ago, when it had its closest brush with the solar system.

Out of 10,000 simulated orbits, the star passed through the outer edges of the Oort cloud, the cloud of comets and icy rocks that circle the solar system, 98 percent of the time, passing within 0.8 light years (5 trillion miles, or 8 trillion kilometers) of the sun. Only one of the simulations brought it inside the Oort cloud, where it could have sent showers of comets raining down on the solar system.
posted by jamjam at 4:28 PM on August 11, 2016 [7 favorites]


Ger Mulder and Scully on the horn ASAP!
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 4:52 PM on August 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


Since 70,000 years is just sixty thousandth of the age of the sun, either Scholz's Star's encounter was a totes bizarro freak event or there'll have been a lot more like it.

Close encounters of the fourth kind - your star system meets theirs...
posted by Devonian at 5:16 PM on August 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


Kobold...
posted by littlejohnnyjewel at 5:22 PM on August 11, 2016 [3 favorites]


On the day the aliens come, we'll read about it on .. Engadget? Or maybe a listicle someplace.

(Reminds me that I learned about 9/11 in an IRC channel topic.)
posted by joeyh at 6:12 PM on August 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


"Given that the Sun has moved through a lot of space in the 4bn years since it was born (I haven't found a reference to how far, but the closest sibling star from the same stellar nursery is 110 ly distant) there's a good chance that it's had encounters capable of capturing objects with different orbital planes. Which would make them well worth a closer look."

The Sun orbits the galactic center about every 225-250 million years. (This is known as a "Galactic Year".) The sun formed about 18 galactic years ago, give or take.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:14 PM on August 11, 2016 [3 favorites]


Dear Mysterious Visitor: Please ignore the rest of these scoffers and get me off this mudhole, we've been having the shittiest year. You know Bowie, right? Yeah, that's how the year began. Anyway, please. I've got my own towel and if you want to do some anal probing or whatever, that's cool, I'm down with it.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:24 PM on August 11, 2016 [9 favorites]


Anyone else here making a mental note of exactly where you are and what you're doing so when the Overlords eventually do take over, we'll know what to tell our grandchildren?

I'm not planning to breed, so I'll just tell you guys right now: I'm in the tub!
posted by mannequito at 6:29 PM on August 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


he Sun orbits the galactic center about every 225-250 million years.

True, but so does every other star in our locale - what I don't know is how the relative local motions work. I go around the sun once a year, which is what - around 150 million kilometres? But who I meet depends on whether I leave my house and go for a walk... That's the sort of thing which will set the probabilities of encounters that could explain the many interesting discrepancies in the solar system from what the 'accretion disk condensing in glorious isolation' model would suggest.

A constant theme of recent astronomy is that the whole universe, at every scale, is far more dynamic than we thought. Which is one thing that makes this story so cool...
posted by Devonian at 6:35 PM on August 11, 2016


what I don't know is how the relative local motions work


I think it involves everybody doing a brand new dance, now...
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:54 PM on August 11, 2016 [10 favorites]


What's up, my glub gluuuuubs!
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:52 PM on August 11, 2016 [3 favorites]


Devonian, the stars in our vicinity don't march in lockstep. They're moving relative to us and each other.

Based on current observations, we're not expecting any close stellar encounters for the next hundred thousand years -- but that's an eyeblink in the history of the Sun and the Galaxy.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:25 PM on August 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


Came for the weird planet, stayed for the sibling stars! Seriously, I had no idea that the Sun had siblings, and that one of them is only 110 ly away. That blows my mind, for some reason.
posted by Mogur at 5:12 AM on August 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


A mysterious object has been discovered with an inexplicable orbit. . . .

This was on TV a couple of months ago . . .

they played up the "wow, weirdzville! teh science has no answers!'' angle . . .



So this story has some angular momentum, then.
 
posted by Herodios at 6:28 AM on August 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


So, folks, when planetary scientists say things like "The solar system just got a lot weirder," or "We don’t know the answer," they are NOT talking about aliens. They are talking about models for gravitational interaction and differential equations and processes that take place over billions of years. It's not that surprising when you think about it that over the 4+ billion years the solar system has been around, interaction between objects, or the occasional interaction with planetoid-sized objects coming from outside the solar system, would cause things like weird axial tilts, ring systems, highly inclined or eccentric orbits, etc.

what I don't know is how the relative local motions work.

A lot of shifting of positions of stars relative to each other over the millions of years, no question.
posted by aught at 6:59 AM on August 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


Chocolate Pickle - I know, that's what I said! The chances of encounters don't depend on the galactic rotation, but the relative local motion. We know the age of the solar system; we don't know what's happened for most of that time, but we know there was an encounter 70,000 years go and there won't be one for the next 100k years. So what are the chances of something that could set up the perpendicular orbiting objects? You have to apply the normal astronomical idea that if you see one occurrence of something, there are probably more, and one as recently as 70k years ago mean that there were probably more in the past (and will be more in the future),

There's a ton of work going on surveying proper motions of stars, we're getting really rather good at it. I expect our knowledge of what happened in the past (and what will probably happen in the future) to get bigger in time and space quite dramatically,

(And yeah, sibling stars!)
posted by Devonian at 7:07 AM on August 12, 2016


Devonian: "we know there was an encounter 70,000 years go and there won't be one for the next 100k years."

Well at least for star sized objects. We don't really have a handle on how many rogue/nomad planets there are in the galaxy "researchers estimated from their observations that there are nearly two rogue planets for every star in the Milky Way. Other estimations suggest a much larger number, up to 100,000 times more rogue planets than stars in the Milky Way". It is possible or maybe even likely that these objects are captured rogue stellar objects that were previously orbiting the galaxy independent of any star.

Could be lots of these sorts of objects in crazy orbits out there; a Caliban or Puck size object is going to be pretty invisible in such a skewed orbit.
posted by Mitheral at 10:11 AM on August 12, 2016


Indeed - all we can do is chip away at the lower probabilities by observation and modelling.

Talking of which, I went looking around and found that the troubled ESA Gaia mission is due to release its first star catalogue next month

The first Gaia data release, which will be available online on 14 September, will include the positions and G magnitude for about one billion stars using observations taken between 25 July 2014 and 16 September 2015.

In addition, for about 2 million stars in common between the Tycho-2 Catalogue (link is external) and Gaia, a five-parameter astrometric solution will be made available, giving the positions, parallaxes, and proper motions for those objects. This is referred to as the Tycho-Gaia Astrometric Solution (TGAS).

Photometric data for RR Lyrae and Cepheid variable stars that were observed frequently during a special scanning mode that repeatedly covered the ecliptic poles will also be made public.


posted by Devonian at 10:52 AM on August 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


they played up the "wow, weirdzville! teh science has no answers!'' angle . . .


So this story has some angular momentum, then.

Nah, that's just spin.


Since 70,000 years is just sixty thousandth of the age of the sun, either Scholz's Star's encounter was a totes bizarro freak event or there'll have been a lot more like it.

Close encounters of the fourth kind - your star system meets theirs...


Very interesting point; I'd think a modern version of Arrhenius' panspermia hypothesis might try to take a look back 3.5 - 4 billion years to see what older systems with planets in the Goldilocks zone might have been in our neighborhood at the time.
posted by jamjam at 11:20 AM on August 12, 2016


They are from Kobol. Battlestar Galactica is the one in front.

The Fleet has returned.

Hooray.
posted by mule98J at 3:05 PM on August 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


Herodios, when I made my comment this morning, I somehow managed to convince myself I was playing off your excellent joke, not stepping on it.

I'm sorry.
posted by jamjam at 4:55 PM on August 12, 2016




In further 'peculiar stuff around stars' news, the SETI Institute just uploaded a talk which goes into what we currently know about Tabby's Star - that's the one with the inexplicably bumpy light curve that looks like randomly sized stuff in weird orbits. The whole talk is worth watching - it's about artifact SETI - but here's the portion of the talk that deals with the star in question. Since it first got noticed, people have gone back and looked at its historical brightness, and that's strange too.

tl;dw - it gets odder the more we look at it.
posted by Devonian at 8:42 AM on August 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


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