A Visitor from Another Solar System


A speck of light discovered nearly two months ago has turned out to be one of the most exciting astronomical discoveries of recent times.

I wrote about this about a month ago – an object was discovered near Earth which was initially thought to be a comet or asteroid, but was moving so fast that it could not be gravitationally bound by the sun.

It had shot in from outside of the solar system, rounded by the sun and the Earth, and is now shooting out back into interstellar space.

This object is the most “alien” that we have ever seen near the Earth – nothing of its kind has been detected before.

This object is now confirmed to have originated outside of the solar system. Due to this, it has been given a name. Previously designated C/2017 U1 – C for comet, and then A/2017 U1, A for asteroid, as it was known as the last time I wrote about it – it is now known as ʻOumuamua – from the Hawaiian language, essentially meaning “scout”, or “a messenger from afar arriving first”.

A new scientific designation was created to classify this type of object. The scientific designation for ʻOumuamua is now 1I/2017 U1 – I as it is an interstellar object, and 1 as it is the first of its kind discovered.

Perhaps the second most interesting thing about ʻOumuamua, apart from its origin, is its extremely unusual shape. It is thought to be six times longer than it is wide or high – 180m x 30m x 30m. An object this elongated has not been discovered before.

It is interesting to me that the first object we find of this shape is not from our solar system at all. It just so happens that the first object we find in space this long and cylindrical is from interstellar space.

There is speculation that this object could be the result of some kind of violent event – perhaps a tremendously powerful volcanic eruption spewing debris into space, or some kind of planetary impact, or a stellar explosion. This may help to explain its unusual shape.

Planetary collision

Of course, there is always the explanation that we all find ourselves drawn towards, and hope for – that this is an object of alien origin.

I don’t believe there has been any object discovered more resembling some kind of spaceship than this one.

Perhaps this object is some kind of alien probe, sent to chart and map our solar system, and send back information to its point of origin.

Maybe it is some kind of derelict ship, which suffered some kind of calamity and is now drifting through space dead, and just so happened to encounter our solar system.

Or maybe it is some kind of sleeper-ship – some sort of alien colony ship filled with passengers in suspended animation, waiting for the signal to be woken up. It is fun to think about!

It could have any number of crazy explanations.

While these explanations are unlikely, it is impossible to discount them. We really have no way of knowing what this object is.

ʻOumuamua tracked
ʻOumuamua tracked by the William Herschel Telescope. The stars are streaked as the telescope is moving to track the object.

It is a shame that we do not yet have the technology to intercept ʻOumuamua and analyse it. It would be an extremely valuable opportunity to learn more about objects from beyond our solar system. Perhaps if we encounter another object in 30 or so years, we may have the technology to launch a spacecraft, catch up with it and take a good look at it up close.

At our rate it takes years to design and build a spacecraft, and then launch it and potentially wait a decade or more for it to reach its target. If we were to start designing a spacecraft to intercept ʻOumuamua, it would have to be the fastest spacecraft ever made, and even then it could take many years for it to actually reach it.

We will have to hope that we spot more objects like this in the future, hopefully with advance notice so we have time to send something up to have a close look at it.

These are exciting times, and I cannot wait for the space discoveries we will continue to make in the future!


How Cosmic Events have Influenced History

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The course of human history has not always been determined by the actions of humanity. Natural events have also played a role in transforming the civilisations of ancient times into the society we live in today.

Some of these natural events were not from the Earth. History could have been quite different if phenomena witnessed in the sky were understood for what they actually were, and not misinterpreted at the time, as has happened.

In a past blog post I talked about how the star of Bethlehem could have been a comet or a supernova. Julius Caesar’s death in 44 BC saw the appearance of a comet, which was taken as a sign that Caesar had ascended to the gods and become a deity. There were even coins minted to celebrate this event.


Augustus, who had taken power following the death of Caesar, used the comet to cement his legitimacy as the heir of Caesar, which led to him becoming the first Roman Emperor, and the transformation of the Republic into the Empire, which would continue to exist in in some form until the 15th century.

Perhaps, if this comet had not appeared, Augustus would not have been able to consolidate power as effectively as he did. Perhaps when he died the Roman state would revert back to its Republican form, instead of accepting new emperors. If Rome never became an empire, the world today would likely be unrecognisable.

In a past post I also talked about how the native civilisations of Central America such as the Aztecs may have developed their practice of sacrifice and offering a heart to their sun god due to an eclipse that occurred long ago in their history.

This practice of sacrifice led to the Aztecs sacrificing prisoners of war they had captured in their wars against their neighbours. This bred hatred of the Aztecs amongst these neighbours. When the Spanish arrived in the 16th century, they were easily able to find allies in their conflict against the Aztecs – all their neighbours despised them, and would gladly help to see the end of the Aztec Empire.

Perhaps if some cosmic event did not occur in their history, no sacrificial practices would be developed. The neighbours of the Aztecs would not have as much reason to despise them so vehemently. They may not have aided the foreign conquerors. The Spanish would not have found conquest to be so easy, and perhaps they would have failed. Perhaps the Aztecs would still be a civilisation which exists in the modern day.

The ignorance of the reality of the true nature of a cosmic events has been known to have been exploited by those who do understand it, as is the case when Christopher Columbus found himself stranded in the Caribbean with hostile natives.

Columbus and his crew were stranded on Jamaica and in need of food. While the natives had initially welcomed the explorers and provided them with food, his crew had stolen from them, causing the natives to halt the food supply.

Columbus knew of an impending total lunar eclipse which would happen on March 1, 1504.

He proceeded to warn the leader of the natives that his god was angry at them for their treatment of the explorers, and stated that his god would provide a clear sign of his displeasure by making the rising full moon to appear “inflamed with wrath”.

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Sure enough, the lunar eclipse caused the moon to turn red on the night of March 1, and the terrified natives rushed to bring food and provisions to the explorers.

Columbus accepted the food, told the natives he was going to “pray”, and when the lunar eclipse ended, he informed the natives his god had forgiven them.

This event may have made it easier for Christian missionaries in the future to convert the natives to Christianity.

The examples I have talked about above are what has come down to us through recorded sources – but there would be many more examples of celestial events influencing history that were never recorded.

What must the first people who saw an eclipse thought? Or a comet? Or a supernova?

I don’t believe it is a stretch to believe that many of the world’s religions had their origins through some sort of cosmic event.

Humanity has an urge to understand things, things must have explanations. Without the resources available to properly study and determine the reality of such events, we resort to magic and mysticism.

Imagine not knowing what a lunar eclipse was. Imagine going outside at night and seeing the moon blood red. What must you think of that? Maybe it is a demon eating the moon. Maybe it is a bad omen. Maybe our gods are angry at us. It is not hard to see where these thoughts can come from.

Anywhere on Earth in Under an Hour

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Can you imagine being able to travel halfway around the world in less than an hour? Leave your destination at 12:00pm and arrive 40 minutes later in a timezone where it is 1:00am?

It sounds like science fiction, jumping around the planet on a whim, disregarding the vast distances between continents. But this supposed fantasy might not be so, and could become a reality within the next few decades.

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The End of Cassini

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NASA’s Cassini probe ended its mission to explore Saturn this week as it was commanded to fly into Saturn’s atmosphere, where it broke apart. This moment ended a momentous 17 years of Saturnian exploration.

The Cassini-Huygens mission was one of the most significant space exploration missions ever accomplished, with an incredible amount of data gained and discoveries made about Saturn and its many moons.

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We are at the Mercy of the Universe

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The solar eclipse which was seen across the United States last week completely disrupted the day-to-day lives of millions of people. The eclipse is completely unavoidable, there is literally nothing humanity as a whole could do about it. It is a reminder of the relative insignificance of humanity as a whole – we may consider ourselves masters of Earth, but every now and then something will remind us of our true place in the Universe.

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