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An artist's rendition of Oumuamua, which one Axios visuals editor referred to as a "steak in space." Credit: William Hartmann

A new study concludes that the first-known interstellar object to pass through our solar system is probably a piece from another planet.

The big picture: The finding throws cold water on the theory — raised by one prominent astrophysicist — that the object was really an alien artifact, but it will help scientists learn about the makeup of planets beyond our corner of the galaxy.

What's happening: In a pair of papers published Wednesday, researchers from Arizona State University posit an explanation for Oumuamua, a flat, comet-like object that was discovered hurtling through our solar system in 2017.

  • They argue the object is a chunk of an "exo-Pluto" — a Pluto-like planet from another solar system.
  • Oumuamua was likely knocked off the surface of the exoplanet by an impact half a billion years ago and thrown out of its parent system, before wandering through ours.

Background: Oumuamua puzzled scientists when it was first discovered because it seemed like a comet but lacked some of the usual traits, like the detectable escaping gas that makes up a comet's tail.

  • Harvard astrophysicist Avi Loeb even posited in a book published earlier this year that "the simplest explanation for [Oumuamua's] peculiarities is that the object was created by an intelligent civilization not of this Earth."

Reality check: The extreme skepticism with which Loeb's theories were met by the mainstream scientific community now seems warranted.

Our thought bubble: "Oumuamua likely won’t be the last interstellar visitor scientists find, so this kind of research is essential for placing the strange object in context with our solar system and others," my Axios Space colleague Miriam Kramer notes.

The bottom line: As Miriam — Axios' own Agent Scully — has repeatedly written: "It's never aliens."

Go deeper

1 hour ago - Technology

Scoop: Facebook exec warns of "more bad headlines"

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

In a post to staffers Saturday obtained by Axios, Facebook VP of global affairs Nick Clegg warned the company that worse coverage could be on the way: “We need to steel ourselves for more bad headlines in the coming days, I’m afraid.”

Catch up quick: Roughly two dozen news outlets had agreed to hold stories based on leaked materials from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen for Monday publication — but the embargo fell apart Friday night as participating newsrooms posted a batch of articles ahead of the weekend.

"Atmospheric river" to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood

A map depicting 24-hour preciptation forecast (inches) ending Monday at 5a.m. local time. Photo: NOAA

A series of powerful "atmospheric river" storms are set dump historic amounts of rainfall across parts of drought-stricken California and the Pacific Northwest from this weekend, forecasters warn.

Why it matters: A strong atmospheric river, packing large amounts of moisture, is predicted to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood.

Inside Biden's Taiwan flubs

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Twice this year, President Biden has blurted out commitments that the U.S. is prepared to defend Taiwan against a Chinese invasion — forcing the White House to walk back his statements and leading to confusion over a high-stakes national security policy.

Why it matters: U.S. defense officials have publicly aired their concerns that China will take Taiwan by force in the next four to six years, perhaps sooner. The president's position on this question may soon have real-world, life and death consequences.