Karen J. Meech: The story of 'Oumuamua, the first visitor from another star system
Karen J. Meech is an astronomer who investigates how habitable worlds form and explores the bigger picture of whether there is life elsewhere. Full bio
Double-click the English transcript below to play the video.
for possible asteroid collision hazards,
is scanning the sky every night.
are examined by Pan-STARRS staff
moving rapidly between the stars,
measurements of position and speed
wasn't from our solar system.
astronomers are waiting for.
an interstellar comet
since the 1970s,
from the nearest star system
entered our solar system
of the constellation Lyra,
on September 9th,
close approach or unusual distance.
to see objects close by.
its closest approach to the Earth,
by astronomical standards.
by its unwieldy catalog name,
that passed through the solar system
science fiction story in 1973.
by a telescope in Hawaii,
on Hawaiian culture --
from the distant past reaching out to us.
was important for many reasons,
is for what 'Oumuamua can tell us
system and the growth of planets
gets ejected from the new solar system
through the dusty disk
that a shiver runs up and down your spine?
very emotionally moving?
from another solar system
from another star system?
and what you can have,
and fading very rapidly.
by a factor of .
we were going to have
of getting telescope time --
peer-reviewed proposal process
competition for resources.
It was a fierce battle.
perfectly crafted proposal words
selfish point of view,
is how massive 'Oumuamua is.
it passed very close to the Earth,
had it not missed the Earth?
of the velocity times its mass,
on how big it is and what it's made of.
and what's its shape?
think of comparing the brightness
on a distant airplane.
because it's so far away.
the surface of 'Oumuamua is,
it's very similar to small asteroids
of charcoal and wet sand.
are used in what's called a service mode,
all the instructions
for the data to come back,
it's cloudy last night.
any second chances here.
'Oumuamua decided not to be.
racing between the stars.
the telescope is following its motion.
fainter, brighter, and fainter again,
of four sides of an oblong object.
conclusion about its shape.
very long and narrow,
this means it's about half a mile long.
solar system looks like this.
that even have an axis ratio
in its home solar system.
every 7.34 hours,
to come in from other teams,
we learn about something,
is not rotating in a simple way.
around its short axis,
of it being violently tossed
from its brightness
on how it's spinning,
what it may look like,
by space artist Bill Hartmann,
may be more of a flattened oval.
to have a piece of 'Oumuamua
so we could study it in detail.
can't manage to launch
on remote observations.
interacts with the surface.
giving it a chemical fingerprint,
may just reflect more blue
it reflected more red light,
rich surface of the comet recently visited
has the same composition.
tiny little bits of iron in the surface
of Saturn's moon Iapetus,
from the Cassini spacecraft.
in other words, metal,
what's on the surface,
about what's on the inside.
that it must at least be strong enough
similar to that of rocky asteroids;
I want to show you
color images that we got
it's not all that spectacular.
was not because of the images,
our observations out
from the discovery,
along the orbit,
where 'Oumuamua came from.
a leftover archaeological remnant
of another planetary system,
that maybe 'Oumuamua formed
that was much denser than our own,
shredded planetary material
this is something that formed
it's a natural object,
that it's not something artificial.
the tumbling motion
this is alien technology,
and search for a radio signal?
the Breakthrough Listen project did,
has remained completely quiet.
a spacecraft to 'Oumuamua
and expensive voyage,
would be very difficult.
has many more things to teach us,
more surprises in store
continue to work with the data.
I think this visitor from afar
that our solar system isn't isolated.
be surrounded by interstellar visitors
than its provided answers,
to a visitor from another solar system.
that talk very much. Thank you.
pretty late in its journey towards us.
the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope
we'll start to see a lot of these things,
as it's approaching the Sun,
to do all the science,
you can chase it.
Let's thank Karen again.
ABOUT THE SPEAKERKaren J. Meech - Astronomer, astrobiologist
Karen J. Meech is an astronomer who investigates how habitable worlds form and explores the bigger picture of whether there is life elsewhere.
Why you should listen
Astrobiologist Karen J. Meech uses the leftover pieces from our solar system's formation to understand how habitable planets are made. Her curiosity about life beyond earth was inspired as a child watching Star Trek. From this, her path led to a career in physics and astronomy, with a PhD in planetary physics from MIT. She is now an astronomer at the University of Hawaii, where she leads the astrobiology group, and she is a passionate scientific educator.
Meech started her astronomical career investigating comets, the icy leftovers from the birth of our solar system. Her work led to an understanding of many of the processes that cause the beautiful tails to develop far from our Sun. She was co-investigator on three comet missions. Her discoveries provide information to test our understanding of how planetary systems are assembled. Now her work has embraced the power of interdisciplinary science, and she is combining geological field work, geochemistry, astronomical observations, theory and space mission concepts to address fundamental questions about how earth got its water.
Karen J. Meech | Speaker | TED.com