Well, there sure has been a lot discoveries lately… the first of course is Oumuamua, or the visitor currently passing through the Solar System. It’s got a lot of people puzzled because instead of being a blob shape, it’s an elongated thing with a ten to one aspect ratio (i.e. it’s ten times longer than wider). And that’s the problem. It shouldn’t be this shape (this is an artist’s impression) …
It’s large – 180 metres by 30 metres by 30 metres. Objects that large have mass and wherever there is significant mass there’s significant gravity. It’s this gravity that should turn such masses into blobs over time.
Oumuamua is clearly no blob. So how was it formed and why did it stay this shape?
There are other blob shapes around the Solar System. These are when two rocks get close to each other and meld into shape – but that would only produce a shape of around 2 to 1 aspect ration. This is 6 to 1 – so it would take roughly three such combined two-rock blobs to be place together in a chain somehow. Extremely unlikely, but possible.
What other processes could there be?
- Molten rock or liquid ice being spurted out in a stream before surface evaporation. The question becomes where from? A supernova tends to suggest itself to my mind, because anything smaller would beg questions about how that she was formed.
- A rock shard from a planet or large moon that was suddenly destroyed. Depending on the rock formations concerned this could be possible.
- Of course, what everyone wants it to be – an alien spacecraft. Something along the lines of a lighthugger slowed down to pass through our solar System, as used in Alastair Reynolds Revelation Space series.
Take your pick, but this sounds like an interesting PhD topic for a talented astrophysics student. It would have the added advantage that the study may one guide how we humans could build an interstellar ship, because as we all know, such long narrow ships have the advantage of minimising the hull damage interstellar space dust can cause.
But I have a second issue with Oumuamua. It’s going at speed through out Solar System, well if you can call 26.33 km/s at speed (though it did speed up when it was closer to the Sun). Are there other interstellar objects travelling at speed from the same direction, and if so could one of those hit Earth? Admittedly the probability of an impact is extremely low. And even we can spot them in time, will we be able to do anything about them? These are questions that can only be answered by experts.
So many unknowns, so many answers required. In the meantime, us science fiction writers can have fun writing stories, speculating on what might be.
The other discovery that caught my eye was that they have discovered certain collections of molecules can behave like magnetic monopoles, which could occur naturally i.e. not forced to exist or manufactured. The article can be found here.
This goes very much against what we were taught at school i.e. a magnet will always have a south pole and a north pole no matter how small you make it. This may just be the start of the path that leads to a major update of Maxwell’s equations on electromagnetism – yep, it may that fundamental. Yes, the theorists have already worked out what those equations should look like etc etc. But the important thing is that Dirac proved that if magnetic monopoles exist, then electromagnetism can by quantised… and this thought alone gives me a headache! There’s enough bizarreness to quantum physics as it is without adding more to it.
But again, speculation of where this can lead can produce some very interesting science fiction stories.