Special Lectures & Events


Wednesday, 17 November, 7 p.m.

Presentation by Steve Desch (ASU), moderated by Steve Desch (GTCC)

1I/'Oumuamua: The nearest exoplanet?

View a recording of the Presentation

When 'Oumuamua passed by Earth in October 2017, the only thing certain about it was that it was not from this Solar System. Because of its high velocity, it was the first confirmed interstellar object. The next year the object 2I/Borisov was the second confirmed interstellar object.

But whereas Borisov behaved very much like a comet (albeit an unusual one), mysteries remain about what 'Oumuamua actually is. Although it pushed away from the Sun by a rocket effect, like comets, it could not be made of water, or contain much carbon monoxide or dust, making it very unlike a comet. The acceleration it experienced was very large, and from the variations in sunlight it reflected, it was more elongated than any other solar system object: either a very skinny pancake or a very long cigar.

Dozens of explanations have been proposed to explain these oddities, and speculation has run rampant, with some astronomers even suggesting it was alien technology. The truth is more mundane but no less exciting.

In a paper we've recently submitted, my colleague Alan Jackson and I demonstrate that 'Oumuamua is consistent in every way with being a small fragment resembling the surface of Pluto. Our own solar system must have ejected trillions of fragments like 'Oumuamua in its early days, and a population of fragments from the surfaces of Pluto-like exoplanets must be common throughout the Galaxy. 'Oumuamua itself may have been ejected about 400 million years ago, from a Pluto-like exoplanet in a young system in the Perseus arm of the Galaxy. 'Oumuamua is arguably the closest we've ever come to directly observing the surface of an exoplanet.

Steve Desch is a Professor of astrophysics in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University. He studies the formation and evolution of planets, the origins of the Solar System, exoplanets, and meteorites. He has written about 'Oumuamua in the popular press and is thrilled to have contributed to our scientific understanding of this unique object.

Slate.com article by Steve Desch about ‘Oumuamua and the anthropomorphization of the universe.

ASU news article with video featuring Dr. Desch’s research on ‘Oumuamua.


The Triad Starfest, *Tri*Star* for short, is a conference of astronomers of all types, from novice to professional, for a full day of presentations, displays, and observing. The event allows astronomy enthusiasts to share ideas, learn about a range of astronomical topics, get together with old friends, and make new ones. The event draws astronomers from North Carolina and surrounding states.  *Tri*Star* is free and open to anyone with an interest in astronomy.

Learn more about TriStar and past events


The Cline Observatory Jo Cline Memorial Astronomy Day Lecture is held each fall, featuring a prominent researcher in astronomy, astrophysics, or planetary science.

Learn more about the Astronomy Day Lecture and past events


Each year, typically in April, GTCC’s student astronomy club, the Stellar Society, teams up with Cline Observatory and the GTCC Foundation to present the Stellar Society Lecture, featuring an astronomer from a regional institution to give a free public lecture on a Friday night before our regular public viewing. This event is usually held in conjunction with the North Carolina Science Festival.  

Learn more about the Stellar Society Lecture and past events


NCAM is an annual technical meeting that seeks to bring members of the NC professional astronomy community together to network and share research. The meeting usually draws 50+ attendees from institutions around North Carolina and surrounding states. For the past two decades, NCAM has been held annually in late September or early October, and includes a plenary presentation from an invited researcher, short oral sessions scheduled throughout the day, and space for research posters. We especially encourage presentations of student research. The meeting also usually includes two special sessions:  the annual business meeting of the NC Section of the International Dark-sky Association, and a Center for Astronomy Education Regional Teaching Exchange. This event is a scientific conference that is not open to the general public.

Learn more about the NCAM and past events