Posts Tagged 'Oumuamua'

The arrival and passing of A/2017 U1 in the centenary of Arthur C Clark’s birthday is a wonderful piece of celestial serendipity.

Renamed ‘Oumuamua, after the Hawawiian term for ‘scout’ – triggered by the fact that is was first spotted by the Haleakala observatory in Hawaii – the cylindrical lump of interstellar rock entered almost perpendicular to Earth’s orbit. Working the object’s trajectory back along its path, it was then revealed that the traveller was in fact from interstellar origin – as in not something returning from the Oort Cloud at the periphery of our solar system.

The similarities between this unexpected guest and Clarke’s 1973 novel, Rendezvous with Rama, are intriguing. Despite the fact that Oumuamua isn’t artificially constructed, nor is it a vast, rotating habitat, scientists do have a limited window to research the meteorite before it passes beyond useful investigation. So far the object’s colour indicates that it’s been travelling through deep space but, beyond that, there’s no real mystery. Even the latest attempt by the SETI system to ‘hear’ if the object is producing any artificial noises, has underlined the likelihood that it’s just a natural phenomenon, albeit a timely one in relation to Clarke – much like the Blue Moon that coincided with the burial of Neil Armstrong at sea.

Capitalising on Clarke’s centenary, the BBC have already repeated a dramatised version of Rendezvous with Rama on Radio 4 Extra, and discussions around the author’s capacity for prediction, alongside the more negative aspects of his lifestyle, are all back in the limelight a mere nine years after his death.

Perhaps, though, the most striking thing about A/2017 U1 is the fact that its trajectory meant for a relatively late detection. First picked-up on the 19th October 2017, the meteor was already heading back out of the solar system after passing within the orbit of Mercury. Not necessarily a ‘near miss’ for planet Earth, but its sudden arrival once again highlights how limited our odds are for continuation of the species. We really do need to think about moving out and away from this blue dot we call home. A sentiment we’re sure Arthur C would approve of.

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