Have you heard about the joint-shaped asteroid traveling through space? No, this isn’t the beginning of a nerdy stoner joke. It’s an actual thing that’s out in the cosmos right now. Here’s what we know about this crazy thing.
There is an asteroid in the form of a massive joint hurtling through our solar system at this very moment. It is almost as if the “man upstairs,” whoever that poor bastard might be at this point in time, found himself so stoned after a long day at the office of Universal Architecture & Son that he or she fumbled a dynamic doobie loaded up with some of that high-grade space grass, sending it on a fiery freefall through space and time.
We have magnificent technology that the scientific minds here on Earth are equipped with. However, reports indicate that the joint-shaped asteroid, known as “Oumuamua,” came blazing into our solar system last month mostly undetected.
Typically, astronomers catch things like asteroids and comets long before they ever come so close to buzzing the planet. But this time around, the planetary remnants came rushing in fast. Had it been on a direct course for Earth, it could have possibly rendered the entire population extinct. Without any warning.
Scientists first spotted the asteroid on October 19 with the volcano-perched Pan-STARRS1 telescope in Hawaii. In fact, the name Oumuamua, which was given to the blunt-shaped mass by the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy, is Hawaiian for “a messenger from afar arriving first.”
From what we know now, perhaps scientists should have considered naming this beastly space missile “Sum Hegh vo’ wovbe’,” which when translated from Klingon means “near death from above.”
Experts Weigh In
Researchers say the rock likely traveled for “millions of years.” They estimate that it traveled at speeds of around 85,700 miles per hour before arriving in our galaxy. They have also confirmed it as the first interstellar object to invade our solar system. In addition, we now know that this unique asteroid is about the size of a football field. And it spins around similar to how a pencil might roll on a flat surface. The asteroid completes a rotation ever 7.3 hours.
All of the details of Oumuamua were published in the latest issue of the journal Nature.
“The orbit calculations revealed beyond any doubt that this body did not originate from inside the solar system…but instead had come from interstellar space,” the report reads.
The situation with Oumuamua could change our understanding of asteroids.
We have always considered these large masses of rock the projectile vomit, of sorts, from when space erupted almost 5 million years ago and created our solar system. However, Oumuamua originated from another galaxy altogether. So researchers are now curious to learn more about where it came from. It could mean there may be other planets out there that we are not aware of. And possibly even life beyond our comprehension.
NASA plans to use the Hubble Space Telescope to observe the joint-shaped asteroid for the rest of the week.
“For decades we’ve theorized that such interstellar objects are out there, and now—for the first time—we have direct evidence they exist,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, told CNN. “This history-making discovery is opening a new window to study [the] formation of solar systems beyond our own.”
Although Oumuamua is now 124 million miles away from Earth, scientists predict that other space joints, just like it, could threaten our planet in the future. They believe there may be around 10,000 more of these high-speed rocks blasting around the universe on course for our solar system – a situation that, under the right circumstances, could spell disaster.
Oumuamua’s speed is what makes it so dangerous.
The asteroid that hit Earth millions of years ago and put the dinosaurs out of commission was much larger than Oumuamua—about the size of a city. Some of the latest data shows that this space rock came down at just the right angle, creating the same amount of energy as tens of thousands of nuclear weapons being detonated simultaneously. This event, according to a recent study in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union, set off firestorms, hurricane-level winds and other disasters that, in addition to the dinosaurs, eliminated 75 percent of the Earth’s plant and animal species.
Final Hit: Joint-Shaped Asteroid Traveled Millions of Years To Our Solar System
But the million-dollar question remains. If a joint-shaped asteroid like Oumuamua ever actually threatens Earth, could we prevent it from snuffing us out like the dinosaurs?
Science fiction author Stuart Hardwick recently told Quora that it would “depend on how large it is, what it was made of, and how much time we had to act.” For an object the size of Oumuamua, he suggests the most likely scenario would be a gravitational tractor.
“In this scheme, we need only build a fairly robust spacecraft, get it into the vicinity of the asteroid, and have it keep station for a few years. Given enough time, it will draw the asteroid toward it by a non-trivial amount—enough to avert disaster,” Hardwick said.
“The difficulty, of course, is that the spacecraft must remain on the job for a very long time, and while it might utilize sunlight or a radio thermoelectric generator for power and rely on highly efficient ion or plasma thrusters for station keeping, it will still have to get into the object’s orbit years, decades, or centuries ahead of time, and that poses a serious problem,” he continued. “We cannot always predict orbits with the required precision, sufficiently far in advance. Indeed, we also need a few years to design and build the tractor spacecraft, and we need to know with certainty that we are at risk in order to get funding for that.”
For a larger asteroid, Hardwick indicates that we would probably have to lean on the savagery of a nuclear weapon.
If that ever happens, we’re all going to need an asteroid-sized joint to get us through the madness.