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.
Dr. Caleb A. Scharf is Director of Astrobiology at Columbia University,and has an international reputation as a research astrophysicist, and asa lecturer to college and public audiences. The UK's Guardian newspaperhas listed his blog Life, Unbounded, as one of their "hottest scienceblogs," while an editor at Seed Magazine called it "phenomenal.Informed, fresh, and thoughtful." Scharf is author and co-author of morethan 100 scientific research articles in astronomy and astrophysics. Hiswork has been featured in publications such as New Scientist, ScientificAmerican, Science News, Cosmos Magazine, Physics Today, and NationalGeographic, as well as online at sites like Space.com and Physorg.com.His textbook for undergraduate and graduate students, Extrasolar Planetsand Astrobiology, won the 2012 Chambliss Prize of the AAS. Hisarticles and reviews have appeared in such prestigious publications asScience, Nature, The Astrophysical Journal, and Monthly Notices of theRoyal Astronomical Society.Dr. Scharf is a regular keynote speaker at academic meetings, such asfor the American Physical Society, museums, and both public and privatevenues, including the American Museum of Natural History, the RubinMuseum of Art in New York. He has been a guest on Krulwich on Science atNPR, William Shatner's "Weird or What?" and has served as a consultantto editors and producers at National Geographic Magazine, The ScienceChannel, The Discovery Channel, and The New York Times.