TED Talk: The story of ‘Oumuamua, the first visitor from another star system | Karen J. Meech

In October 2017, astrobiologist Karen J. Meech got the call every astronomer waits for: NASA had spotted the very first visitor from another star system. The interstellar comet — a half-mile-long object eventually named `Oumuamua, from the Hawaiian for “scout” or “messenger” — raised intriguing questions: Was it a chunk of rocky debris from a new star system, shredded material from a supernova explosion, evidence of alien technology or something else altogether? In this riveting talk, Meech tells the story of how her team raced against the clock to find answers about this unexpected gift from afar.

ʻOumuamua images and representation

Artists_impression_of_ʻOumuamua
By ESO/M. Kornmesser

I ran across this image of the interstellar asteroid. It struck me that I recognize an artist’s impression as the actual representation of the object. Because we do not have an actual photo, an artist made something. And yet, to me, it IS the asteroid enough that when I see the impression photo, I think it is.

It started to bother me that my brain has become so tricked, but I think I am about to get over it. We do this all the time. When I think of a very generic term like cat, my current cat comes to mind. Even if I go for an animal I have never seen before in person, then I think of an image of one or something similar. Being visual creatures, images are how we think, so we need something like an impression to recognize it.