It's not aliens. It's never aliens.
March 19, 2021 2:01 PM   Subscribe

It was likely knocked off the surface by an impact about half a billion years ago and thrown out of its parent system," Jackson said. "Being made of frozen nitrogen also explains the unusual shape of 'Oumuamua. As the outer layers of nitrogen ice evaporated, the shape of the body would have become progressively more flattened, just like a bar of soap does as the outer layers get rubbed off through use.
Alien space craft it wasn't, but Oumuamua's real origin as proposed by Arizona State University astrophysicists Steven Desch and Alan Jackson is if anything even more awe inspiring.
posted by MartinWisse (50 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
Whenever an astronomer says "maybe it's aliens?", you should read that as "okay, it's probably not going to be aliens in the end, but it's weird and unexpected, and it will lead use to understand something new and wonderful about the universe."

(Speaking as an astronomer.)
posted by puffyn at 2:23 PM on March 19 [5 favorites]


Alien space craft it wasn't, but Oumuamua's real origin as proposed by Arizona State University astrophysicists Steven Desch and Alan Jackson is if anything even more awe inspiring.

Counterpoint: natural phenomena, no matter how incredible, aren’t as awe inspiring and terrifying as a brush with an extraterrestrial intelligence.
posted by Going To Maine at 2:24 PM on March 19 [25 favorites]


But the aliens picked that chunk to surf with.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 2:25 PM on March 19 [2 favorites]


The Wafer of Apollo.
Diogenes sold Plato a 6 pack for gardening and a bath effervescent.
posted by clavdivs at 2:35 PM on March 19 [1 favorite]


Yeah, how is a piece of nitrogen ice more awe inspiring than an alien craft?
posted by Liquidwolf at 2:37 PM on March 19 [5 favorites]


This does not bode well for Avi Loeb's new book, which seems like a bit of a gamble on Oumuamua in fact being an alien space ship.

I will say that after listening to an interview with Avi Loeb on Planetary Radio a month ago, he made an interesting case that we won't find this stuff unless we allow ourselves to entertain the notion it exists. Maybe these hypotheses are not so silly even if they are proven wrong.
posted by fishhouses at 2:38 PM on March 19 [5 favorites]


Team it is not "more awe inspiring" that some nitrogen flaked off from a collision than that a galactic civilization did us a drive-by probe here!
posted by thelonius at 2:38 PM on March 19 [6 favorites]


To add to the disappointment, "life on venus" also hanging on by a thread.

While discovery of higher-than-normal levels of phosphine in Venus' atmosphere last year has had scientists wondering if something is farting in there, there is apparently only 1/7th of the amount of fart than they had previously estimated.
posted by fishhouses at 2:44 PM on March 19 [3 favorites]


But the aliens picked that chunk to surf with skip on as many stellar systems as possible with.
posted by Greg_Ace at 2:58 PM on March 19 [2 favorites]


Aliens are boring.

Some other civilisation sent an interstellar craft? Big deal. We did that in seventies.

But knowning that this "chunk of ice" is a billion and a half years old and has travelled so long and far through the interstellar medium it got shaven smooth by the sparse amounts of matter in it?

Doesn't that fill you with awe at the sheer size and age of the universe?
posted by MartinWisse at 3:00 PM on March 19 [19 favorites]


I want to believe.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 3:00 PM on March 19


Doesn't that fill you with awe at the sheer size and age of the universe?

It would be just as big and old with probers!
posted by thelonius at 3:13 PM on March 19 [5 favorites]


Counterpoint: natural phenomena, no matter how incredible, aren’t as awe inspiring and terrifying as a brush with an extraterrestrial intelligence.

Spoken like somebody who hasn't been in orbit around Jupiter or Saturn. ;)
posted by Celsius1414 at 3:15 PM on March 19 [4 favorites]




But the aliens picked that chunk to surf with.

Benson, Arizona blew warm wind through your hair
My body flies the galaxy, my heart longs to be there
Benson, Arizona, the same stars in the sky
But they seemed so much kinder when we watched them, you and I
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 3:26 PM on March 19 [12 favorites]


Whenever an astronomer says "maybe it's aliens?", you should read that as
"I'm willing to be mocked and ridiculed because on the very very off chance it's aliens I'll get a Nobel prize for being first."

The rumor is that Avi Loeb is obsessed with getting a Nobel prize.
posted by medusa at 3:38 PM on March 19 [1 favorite]


There is some value in pushing the frame of reference - give things a big enough shove, see how they look from there.

How many other Oumuamua's have passed by? In the last ten thousand years? hundred years? Right now, but skipping past telescopes, detectors looking the other way? If you don't see the whale from the beach, it doesn't mean there aren't any out there.

That 'we' will be looking all the harder for the next one means we are all the more likely to find it, now that we know what to look for. As another step in figuring out what the hell everything is, its not a bad step.
posted by From Bklyn at 3:47 PM on March 19 [1 favorite]


After some of the weekends I’ve had, I’d really like a nice natural phenominon.

Trust me; it gets old fast.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:56 PM on March 19 [4 favorites]


Benson, Arizona
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace


::applauds::

Bravo!
posted by Splunge at 4:10 PM on March 19 [3 favorites]


"There are times when the human eye can behave like a camera lens, when a momentarily but brilliantly cast image can be not merely recalled but meticulously reconstructed as vividly as if viewed in the present. Minutes later, I could still visualise the surface of that colossus in the flare’s afterglow, its kilometers-long sides not smooth but pocked, almost lunar in texture; the way the light had spilled over its corrugated rills, bumps and craterlike cavities – scars of its interminable wandering, dark and dead as it had entered the nebulae, from which it had emerged centuries later, dust-eaten, and ravaged by the myriad bombardments of cosmic erosion. I can’t explain my certainty, but I was sure that it sheltered no living soul, that it was a billion-year-old carcass, no more alive than the civilisation that gave birth to it."
posted by CynicalKnight at 4:25 PM on March 19 [4 favorites]


I can't believe we're still talking about this. ʻOumuamua is obviously a derelict Zentradi battleship, Nupetiet-Vergnitzs class.
posted by The Tensor at 4:31 PM on March 19 [12 favorites]


Some other civilisation sent an interstellar craft? Big deal. We did that in seventies.

Perhaps you're not understanding it's the some other part of the story that would be so exciting.
posted by Nelson at 4:56 PM on March 19 [3 favorites]


medusa: "I'm willing to be mocked and ridiculed because "

of the sweet, sweet media attention.

I mean, we all know Loeb's name, but those other toiling anonymous astronomers, not so much.

To be famous, especially "pop" famous, you must covet, invite, endure and eventually adore being mocked and ridiculed.
posted by chavenet at 5:06 PM on March 19


Now what hit the pluto like planet so hard that a big chunk was knocked off so hard it went interstellar?
posted by sammyo at 5:06 PM on March 19 [1 favorite]


Kzanol's ship?
posted by The Tensor at 5:17 PM on March 19 [4 favorites]


Metafilter: only 1/7th of the amount of fart than they had previously estimated.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 5:27 PM on March 19 [3 favorites]


Note to self: when approaching a primitive pre-Contact civilization that nevertheless has started to develop extraplanetary sensing capabilities, don't forget the old "chunk of ancient nitrogen ice" trick to disguise my approach. Now to come up with suitable camouflage for the landing party... hmm, this looks good.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:47 PM on March 19 [10 favorites]


If you believe you are farting phosphine please see a doctor immediately. Also a hazardous chemicals disposal team. Might want to to carry a hazchem sign around your neck as well.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 5:49 PM on March 19


This is really neat and looks well done.

Drawing conclusions about age based on the velocity of a single object with respect to the local standard of rest isn't a bad thing to try. I'm not sure it's convincing. (And, to be clear, the authors are very specific about exactly what they're doing and why.)
posted by eotvos at 6:05 PM on March 19


Now what hit the pluto like planet so hard that a big chunk was knocked off so hard it went interstellar?

Was it...aliens?
posted by Greg_Ace at 6:22 PM on March 19 [3 favorites]


maybe puffyn is aliens ?
posted by NoThisIsPatrick at 8:32 PM on March 19


The real aliens were the friends we made along the way.
posted by The otter lady at 9:32 PM on March 19 [7 favorites]


Just this week I was being amazed that Mars rocks could become Earth meteorites and now I learn that whole star systems swap chunks. What's next, stars moving from one galaxy to another?
posted by hypnogogue at 11:08 PM on March 19


> "What's next, stars moving from one galaxy to another?"

Sure. That absolutely happens!
posted by kyrademon at 2:32 AM on March 20 [3 favorites]


It would be just as big and old with probers!

It really, really wouldn't.
posted by flabdablet at 4:38 AM on March 20


Metafilter: only 1/7th of the amount of fart than they had previously estimated.

Unpossible.
posted by y2karl at 9:35 AM on March 20


Have listened to a couple of extended interviews with Loeb about this. Not convinced.

Yeah, it seems to have some unusual features that are interesting and need explaining.

And, yeah, we should always keep an open mind to the possibility of aliens.

But going any further on the current evidence is just silly.
posted by Pouteria at 9:53 AM on March 20


It really, really wouldn't.

What? Make sense.
posted by thelonius at 10:25 AM on March 20


Some other civilisation sent an interstellar craft? Big deal. We did that in seventies.

We also went to the moon in the seventies. But no human has managed to get beyond low earth orbit since 1972.

The awe-inspiring thing is clearly the 1970s.
posted by Naberius at 11:59 AM on March 20 [4 favorites]


What? Make sense.

If we actually encounter an alien artifact then shit's nowhere near as far apart as I've always thought of it as being.

Fucking crowded dive bars. Just no getting away from them.
posted by flabdablet at 4:03 PM on March 20


If Oumuamua doesn’t exit the solar system for another 15 years, why not send a probe for a look?
posted by Big Al 8000 at 5:53 PM on March 20 [1 favorite]


Because the Oumuamuans do everything in threes.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 6:03 PM on March 20 [2 favorites]


why not send a probe for a look?

Because "probing the scout" sounds too much like an unsavory euphemism.
posted by Greg_Ace at 6:12 PM on March 20 [2 favorites]


Unsavory euphemisms are the worst. I ate one at a "gallery opening" and was ill for a week.
posted by flabdablet at 7:09 PM on March 20 [3 favorites]


Adds a whole new level of meaning to "Be Prepared"....
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:19 PM on March 20 [2 favorites]


Have they compared the albedo to that of a regular sized surfboard painted silver that responds to the name "Toomie"?
posted by signal at 5:49 AM on March 21 [2 favorites]


If Oumuamua doesn’t exit the solar system for another 15 years, why not send a probe for a look?
I think the short answer is that it's going really fast and space probes are expensive and take a long time to build. Oumuamua is going slow compared to an average star in the galaxy, but it's still traveling at around 30 km/s currently, and will become only a bit slower as time goes on. The Voyager probes and Cassini reached something like 16 km/s. Juno got up to 70 km/s, but only because it was falling toward Jupiter at the time; the average for the five year trip to Jupiter is something like 18 km/s as the crow flies. (The trip was more complicated than that, but also unavoidably so without huge sacrifices in efficiency.) The Parker Probe is astonishingly fast, around 130 km/s, but that's taking advantage of lots of orbital tricks that can't work if you want to pick an arbitrary direction headed away from the sun.

It might not be impossible. But, it would mean making something headed for the outer solar system that's at least a few times faster than anything we've ever made before, in a hurry. It's far harder than, say, landing a probe on Mars, which takes NASA a minimum of 5 years or so after several billion dollars in funding is approved.

It would be awesome. But, funding several dedicated large telescopes to look for future similar objects is a lot cheaper and would deliver a lot more data, under the assumption that this is not very likely to be a truly unique object.
posted by eotvos at 9:55 AM on March 21 [4 favorites]


I think Steve Desch has got it. The facts do fit in this case.

Here's Loebs comments on the Nitrogen iceberg theory.
Desch has said that it sounds like Loeb didn't read his papers as all of Loeb's objections are addressed.

We should always consider that we might not be alone in this universe and that cannot be discarded as a hypothesis, but when we have a viable alternative then there is no real reason to invoke it here.
posted by vacapinta at 6:07 AM on March 22


Unsavory euphemisms are the worst.

Not when taken with a grain of salt.
posted by y2karl at 2:35 PM on March 22 [3 favorites]


Loeb continues on the warpath. Planetary scientists not amused.
posted by vacapinta at 10:47 AM on March 26 [1 favorite]


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