As 'Oumuamua (formerly known as C/2017 U1 (PANSTARRS)) recently barreled its way through our inner solar system we've been puzzling over its seemingly strange shape. This tumbling, probably interstellar visitor appears to have a highly elongated form, possibly stretching 180 meters with a width of only about 30 meters.
While it's tempting to muse on whether 'Oumuamua's odd proportions could be signaling that it's more than a chunk of rock ('look Ma! A spaceship!') the truth is that current astronomical data really only gives a range of dimensions, and this object could have a more ordinary 4:1 axial ratio.
And our own solar system has many funky-looking asteroids of its own. They're awfully hard to take images of (being small and dark), but Earth-based planetary radar can build some pretty convincing maps of these bodies. Doppler delay radio maps allow planetary scientists to construct both 'images' and eventually 3D models of the better examples.
For fun, here are some to ponder. For my money many of these look just as wacky as 'Oumuamua.
The views expressed are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.
Caleb A. Scharf is director of astrobiology at Columbia University. He is author and co-author of more than 100 scientific research articles in astronomy and astrophysics. His work has been featured in publications such as New Scientist, Scientific American, Science News, Cosmos Magazine, Physics Today and National Geographic. For many years he wrote the Life, Unbounded blog for Scientific American. Follow Caleb A. Scharf on Twitter