By Meghan Bartels
‘Oumuamua, the first known visitor from beyond our solar system, is long gone, but it’s still leaving scientists guessing. A new explanation proposes that the strange object was a “monstrous fluffy dust aggregate” — that’s a technical term, apparently — produced by a busted-up comet.
That’s the explanation laid out by Zdenek Sekanina, an astronomer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in a new, unpublished paper. The explanation draws on observations of comets breaking apart as they get closer to the sun.
‘Oumuamua is the interstellar object that astronomers detected whizzing through our solar system in October 2017. It was the first interstellar object scientists ever spotted, although they expect thousands more have gone unnoticed. Ever since ‘Oumuamua’s appearance, scientists have debated what the object is: asteroid or comet, ripped-up planetesimal, or of course, the least likely explanation, an alien probe.
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