1919: Interstellar Asteroid

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Interstellar Asteroid
Every time we detect an asteroid from outside the Solar System, we should immediately launch a mission to fling one of our asteroids back in the direction it came from.
Title text: Every time we detect an asteroid from outside the Solar System, we should immediately launch a mission to fling one of our asteroids back in the direction it came from.


ʻOumuamua is the first detection of an interstellar asteroid passing through the Solar System originating from another solar system.

Megan's list of objects with a similar shape ratio:

As soon as Megan lists off the last item, she is about to start speculating within her own speculative scenario about who or what might be in the coffin before Cueball interrupts her. Cueball attempts to bring Megan back down to earth by reminding her that she has too little data to work with (one data point), but Megan is far too excitable to listen to reason. A good example of the dangers of speculating irresponsibly, it would seem.

It could also be argued that Megan with this makes fun of many news outlets whose first reaction to a new space body often seems to be to search for something to compare its shape to, such as with the 'rubber duck' comet. Making fun of media covering science news is a recurring theme on xkcd.

The title text suggests taking reciprocal action by sending asteroids away when the solar system receives them. This would, of course, be difficult, given the amount of energy needed to shift asteroids outside of the Sun's gravity hold. On top of that, it appears to imply that some non-human entity is sending these rocks, which is an inane idea. This could be a reference to the movie Starship Troopers, where a race of aliens mankind is at war with supposedly hit Earth with asteroids. Given that a typical interstellar traveler -- like the one spotted now in real life -- spends millions of years getting from one star system to another, the movie's idea is plain stupid; in fact, the movie gives no proof the aliens were actually responsible, leading to a common fan theory that the asteroid was indeed random space junk and the aliens are being framed by the human government as pretense for war.


[Megan walks towards Cueball while looking at her phone. Cueball sits in front of his laptop.]
Megan: Hey, you know that asteroid that tumbled past from another star system? It's apparently really long and skinny.
Megan: Like a ratio of 6:1 or 10:1.
Cueball: Weird. Wonder what it's shaped like.
[Megan lowers her phone and looks up. Cueball looks backward.]
Megan: Without more data, it would be irresponsible to speculate further.
Cueball: So...you're going to?
Megan: Absolutely.
[Frameless panel focusing on Megan.]
Megan: Here are some objects with a similar shape ratio:
Megan: The 1:4:9 monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Megan: A star destroyer.
Megan: A huge eggplant emoji.
[Same setting with Megan and Cueball.]
Megan: A statue of Weird Al. An iPhone XXXXX. Voltron.
Megan: A giant space coffin. But who could be inside? We can only guess. I'll start:
Cueball: This is all based on how many data points, again?
Megan: One. But it's a perfect fit!

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Let's see:

  • Long and thin.
  • From another solar system.
  • Made mostly of metal.
  • Spinning to create artificial gravity.

...yeah - could be anything really! 05:16, 22 November 2017 (UTC)

Well, at about 200 meters in length, rotating once every 8 hours... If it's spinning for gravity, it's very low gravity.
Also be aware that it's tumbling end over end, not rolling, so the momentum ("spin gravity") would be greatest at the ends, not along the sides. 21:41, 23 November 2017 (UTC)

Has he ever referenced Weird al before? 05:35, 22 November 2017 (UTC)

There's one potential reference in 488 and an example of something he talks about in 1576, but nothing directly. Fabian42 (talk) 08:34, 22 November 2017 (UTC)

Obviously in the alt-text he is referencing Starship Troopers [1] 08:55, 22 November 2017 (UTC)

I've read Heinlein's story, & seen the movies, but I can't think of a specific element of those which corresponds to the "return fire" mentality implied in the Alt-Text; almost every SciFi dealing with aliens has humans urging a counter-attack. In fact, I think an old Twilight Zone or Outer Limits episode might be a better example than Starship Troopers, in which we at least had solid evidence of another species. In many SciFi plots we just assume anything unusual is hostile, whether it's actually alive or not. 21:41, 23 November 2017 (UTC)
Not the "return fire" part, that's Randall's contribution. The concept of sending an asteroid as an intentional attack. NiceGuy1 (talk) 05:34, 24 November 2017 (UTC)
Regarding the remark that the asteroid might be to precise for the bugs - well, everyone in the move (as well es the novel) underestimated the bugs, didn't they? Even some skymarshall took the responsibility and had to step down (oh no!) 08:29, 24 November 2017 (UTC)

Why is Megan coming up with these ideas, instead of say Whitehat? 10:39, 22 November 2017 (UTC)

White-Hat isn't as imaginative as Megan, based upon their general depictions. 21:41, 23 November 2017 (UTC)

So, it's an interstellar object that just happens to have come close enough to Earth to be spotted? What are the odds of that being purely random, just an asteroid passing by, rather than a swing and a miss or a little recon mission? --AnnatarsGift (talk) 12:21, 22 November 2017 (UTC)

There is no data to estimate the frequency of interstellar objects transiting our star system, because this is literally the first interstellar object ever known to have done so. It's expected to completely exit Sol system (passing beyond our Oort cloud) in about 200,000 years, so it's a very long term "event".
Likewise, there is no data on any known extrasolar species, so it's impossible to know how likely a recon mission would be. If we assume the presence of interstellar explorers, we're also assuming some level of technology or biology well beyond our current capabilities, so it's still pretty hard to guess how likely they'd be to send a big tumbling metallic probe.
That said, its course is less than ideal for speedy fly-bys: Even if someone decided to send out a long-term recon mission (measured in tens of millions of years since launch), ʻOumuamua's orbit is extremely unstable with a high likelihood of low-mass collisions or capture by a planetary body. "Sub-optimal" might be putting it too kindly, as mission plans go. 21:41, 23 November 2017 (UTC)
For all we know, Earth is late to this party. Maybe asteroids randomly fly by other planets all the time within observable distance, just that there were no Earthlings present to do said observing. NiceGuy1 (talk) 05:34, 24 November 2017 (UTC)

I believe we have decided the Eggplant emoji is an euphemism.

Here's a picture of the monolith [2] Rtanenbaum (talk) 13:37, 22 November 2017 (UTC)

Agreed, mentioning the Eggplant emoji is definitely a way of implying "penis shaped" without saying that. I am reminded of the Austin Powers movie: "It looks like a giant~" "Willy, come look at this!" 21:41, 23 November 2017 (UTC)

Anybody else read "Rendezvous with Rama" by Arthur C. Clarke? The behavior of this object is disturbingly similar to the ship described there. Archiesholland (talk) 16:13, 22 November 2017 (UTC)

I think that's what the first comment is referring to.
On re-reading, I think you're right. Probably also applies to AnnatarsGift's comment. Archiesholland (talk) 21:16, 22 November 2017 (UTC)
Wayyy too small though (only ~200 meters long); Unless it's crewed by microscopic tardigrades!?!
D 21:41, 23 November 2017 (UTC)
I know as a somewhat tall guy I'm in the vicinity of 2 meters tall, so that would be a HUNDRED of me. :) If it's even slightly better dimensionally distributed than 2001's monolith, that sounds fine. Also, the space shuttle was merely 56 meters long, 200 sounds downright spacious and roomy by comparison. LOL! I can't help but think of how the phone in my pocket has more computational power than the roomful of computers which first sent men to the moon, imagine that kind of minimizing progress applied to space vehicles? NiceGuy1 (talk) 05:34, 24 November 2017 (UTC)

Note that Weird Al recently tweeted about the trademark on his name.

(previous commenter forgot to sign) The style of this and the last explaination is very different than of most other recent ones. usually it is quite long, describing the comic and everything, even the most obvious thing in there in biggest detail. These 2 just give references to some points - is there any reason to that? Lupo (talk)

Yes: The comics are relatively straightforward, so little explanation is needed. It happens; enjoy it. --BigMal // 20:53, 22 November 2017 (UTC)
I've seen simple, even 1 panel, comics get such an explanation as could be published as a book... Introducing confusion where there was none. I'd say the brevity on this one is just a sign of it still being early, just wait for it. LOL! NiceGuy1 (talk) 05:34, 24 November 2017 (UTC)

NO mention of how "iPhone XXXXX" should most likely be "iPhone L"? Or that it's not means it's most likely referencing clothes sizes, how they add X's to indicate bigger sizes? (L, XL, XXL, XXXL, XXXXL, etc)? Okay... NiceGuy1 (talk) 05:38, 24 November 2017 (UTC)

In terms of another object it could be, the NASA APOD page for NOV. 22 2017 mentions the similarities to Arthur C. Clark's Rama ship.Just a thought. 18:27, 27 November 2017 (UTC)