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UFO sighting -- for real!

Astronauts on the space shuttle Atlantis, due to come home tomorrow, have apparently spotted an alien flying saucer unidentified flying object:

NASA engineers are checking into a baffling sight of a mystery object below the shuttle that mission control spotted at about 2:45 a.m EDT Tuesday with a video camera in the shuttle's cargo bay. The object, which circled the Earth in the same orbit as the shuttle and is of undetermined size, probably came out of the shuttle's cargo bay because some jets had just been fired, shaking the orbiter, NASA spokesman Doug Peterson said.

The astronauts are some of the most credible people to ever spot a UFO, but they're hardly the most famous. The list includes Christopher Columbus (not known for his ability to correctly identify large unknown masses), Alexander the Great, Pluto discoverer Clyde Tombaugh, and quite a few more recent luminaries:

John Lennon: "John Lennon had a UFO sighting which occurred when he was with his personal secretary, May Pang, in New York. As May Pang recounts in her book, the 'large, circular object [was] coming towards us. It was shaped like a flattened cone and on top was a large, brilliant red light... When it came a little closer, we could make out a row or circle of white lights that ran around the entire rim of the craft.'"

Jimmy Carter: "In 1969 ... [Carter] described an object appearing in the west at 7:15 on an evening in October. It was about thirty degrees up, and sometimes 'as bright as the moon.' It varied from the size of a planet to the apparent size of the moon and appeared to be 900 to 3000 feet away. A close examination of the report by UFO skeptic Robert Sheaffer discovered that, because Carter was with members of the Lions Club on the day in question, the actual date of the incident must have been January 6th, 1969. By using a star chart Sheaffer was able to establish that Venus was in the precise location described by Carter."

Dan Aykroyd: "One occurred on Martha's Vineyard, he said, where he sighted 'high altitude, glowing magnesium discs travelling at 20,000 miles (32,190 km) an hour at 100,000 feet (30,480 metres) ... wing to wing, edge to edge.' ... 'The second was a telepathic experience,' he said, which happened at a lake retreat in Canada. 'I was asleep with my wife and I woke up about 3 a.m. wanting to go outside into a field and look at the sky,' he said, telling his wife, 'They want me to see. They want me to see.' She told him to forget it. The next morning, he said, newspapers and radio reports from across the region were filled with eyewitness accounts from some of the estimated 12,000 people who saw a pink spiral in the sky. The military later said it was a Chinese rocket, Aykroyd said, but he believes he was being summoned and regrets ignoring the call."

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Big Questions
Why Does Turkey Make You Tired?
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iStock

Why do people have such a hard time staying awake after Thanksgiving dinner? Most people blame tryptophan, but that's not really the main culprit. And what is tryptophan, anyway?

Tryptophan is an amino acid that the body uses in the processes of making vitamin B3 and serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep. It can't be produced by our bodies, so we need to get it through our diet. From which foods, exactly? Turkey, of course, but also other meats, chocolate, bananas, mangoes, dairy products, eggs, chickpeas, peanuts, and a slew of other foods. Some of these foods, like cheddar cheese, have more tryptophan per gram than turkey. Tryptophan doesn't have much of an impact unless it's taken on an empty stomach and in an amount larger than what we're getting from our drumstick. So why does turkey get the rap as a one-way ticket to a nap?

The urge to snooze is more the fault of the average Thanksgiving meal and all the food and booze that go with it. Here are a few things that play into the nap factor:

Fats: That turkey skin is delicious, but fats take a lot of energy to digest, so the body redirects blood to the digestive system. Reduced blood flow in the rest of the body means reduced energy.

Alcohol: What Homer Simpson called the cause of—and solution to—all of life's problems is also a central nervous system depressant.

Overeating: Same deal as fats. It takes a lot of energy to digest a big feast (the average Thanksgiving meal contains 3000 calories and 229 grams of fat), so blood is sent to the digestive process system, leaving the brain a little tired.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Space
More Details Emerge About 'Oumuamua, Earth's First-Recorded Interstellar Visitor
 NASA/JPL-Caltech
NASA/JPL-Caltech

In October, scientists using the University of Hawaii's Pan-STARRS 1 telescope sighted something extraordinary: Earth's first confirmed interstellar visitor. Originally called A/2017 U1, the once-mysterious object has a new name—'Oumuamua, according to Scientific American—and researchers continue to learn more about its physical properties. Now, a team from the University of Hawaii's Institute of Astronomy has published a detailed report of what they know so far in Nature.

Fittingly, "'Oumuamua" is Hawaiian for "a messenger from afar arriving first." 'Oumuamua's astronomical designation is 1I/2017 U1. The "I" in 1I/2017 stands for "interstellar." Until now, objects similar to 'Oumuamua were always given "C" and "A" names, which stand for either comet or asteroid. New observations have researchers concluding that 'Oumuamua is unusual for more than its far-flung origins.

It's a cigar-shaped object 10 times longer than it is wide, stretching to a half-mile long. It's also reddish in color, and is similar in some ways to some asteroids in own solar system, the BBC reports. But it's much faster, zipping through our system, and has a totally different orbit from any of those objects.

After initial indecision about whether the object was a comet or an asteroid, the researchers now believe it's an asteroid. Long ago, it might have hurtled from an unknown star system into our own.

'Oumuamua may provide astronomers with new insights into how stars and planets form. The 750,000 asteroids we know of are leftovers from the formation of our solar system, trapped by the Sun's gravity. But what if, billions of years ago, other objects escaped? 'Oumuamua shows us that it's possible; perhaps there are bits and pieces from the early years of our solar system currently visiting other stars.

The researchers say it's surprising that 'Oumuamua is an asteroid instead of a comet, given that in the Oort Cloud—an icy bubble of debris thought to surround our solar system—comets are predicted to outnumber asteroids 200 to 1 and perhaps even as high as 10,000 to 1. If our own solar system is any indication, it's more likely that a comet would take off before an asteroid would.

So where did 'Oumuamua come from? That's still unknown. It's possible it could've been bumped into our realm by a close encounter with a planet—either a smaller, nearby one, or a larger, farther one. If that's the case, the planet remains to be discovered. They believe it's more likely that 'Oumuamua was ejected from a young stellar system, location unknown. And yet, they write, "the possibility that 'Oumuamua has been orbiting the galaxy for billions of years cannot be ruled out."

As for where it's headed, The Atlantic's Marina Koren notes, "It will pass the orbit of Jupiter next May, then Neptune in 2022, and Pluto in 2024. By 2025, it will coast beyond the outer edge of the Kuiper Belt, a field of icy and rocky objects."

Last week, University of Wisconsin–Madison astronomer Ralf Kotulla and scientists from UCLA and the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) used the WIYN Telescope on Kitt Peak, Arizona, to take some of the first pictures of 'Oumuamua. You can check them out below.

Images of an interloper from beyond the solar system — an asteroid or a comet — were captured on Oct. 27 by the 3.5-meter WIYN Telescope on Kitt Peak, Ariz.
Images of 'Oumuamua—an asteroid or a comet—were captured on October 27.
WIYN OBSERVATORY/RALF KOTULLA

U1 spotted whizzing through the Solar System in images taken with the WIYN telescope. The faint streaks are background stars. The green circles highlight the position of U1 in each image. In these images U1 is about 10 million times fainter than the faint
The green circles highlight the position of U1 in each image against faint streaks of background stars. In these images, U1 is about 10 million times fainter than the faintest visible stars.
R. Kotulla (University of Wisconsin) & WIYN/NOAO/AURA/NSF

Color image of U1, compiled from observations taken through filters centered at 4750A, 6250A, and 7500A.
Color image of U1.
R. Kotulla (University of Wisconsin) & WIYN/NOAO/AURA/NSF

Editor's note: This story has been updated.

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