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Cosmic Space

Did interstellar object come from an alien Pluto?

It’s not aliens, but it could be a slimmed-down piece of an alien Pluto.

That’s the claim laid out in a pair of studies about the mysterious interstellar object known as ’Oumuamua, which passed through our solar system in 2017.

The studies, published in the AGU Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, suggest that the flattened chunk of cosmic material consists primarily of solid nitrogen ice, much like the stuff on Pluto’s surface.

The debate over ’Oumuamua — whose name is derived from the Hawaiian phrase for “messenger from afar” — is still raging years after it zipped around the sun and headed back into the celestial darkness. Based on its trajectory, astronomers were certain it came from far beyond the solar system. But was it an asteroid? A comet? Could it even have been an alien spaceship?

Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb favored the alien hypothesis, due to ’Oumuamua’s weird shape and unusually fast getaway. He doubled down on the idea in “Extraterrestrial,” a book published in January. But the authors of the newly published studies, Arizona State University’s Steven Desch and Alan Jackson, say there’s no need to invoke aliens.

“Everybody is interested in aliens, and it was inevitable that this first object outside the solar system would make people think of aliens,” Desch said in a news release. “But it’s important in science not to jump to conclusions. It took two or three years to figure out a natural explanation — a chunk of nitrogen ice — that matches everything we know about ’Oumuamua. That’s not that long in science, and far too soon to say we had exhausted all natural explanations.”