Just because something looks like a cookie doesn’t mean you should eat it. That’s the first rule of intergalactic travel. It’s also a decent policy when it comes to our solar system’s first known interstellar visitor, a mysterious chunk of matter that is large, somewhat crumbly, and shaped like a delicious cookie.
Arizona State University astronomers recently published a report explaining that the 148-foot object appears to be made of frozen nitrogen, the AP reports. The study’s authors, Alan Jackson and Steven Desch, suspect that the chunk fell off an obscure nitrogen-covered, Pluto-like planet some 500 million years ago and tumbled out of its own star system and into ours. The AP explains that the chunk is named Oumuamua, Hawaiian for “scout,” in honor of the observatory in Hawaii that discovered it in 2017.
At first, scientists weren’t sure how to classify Oumuamua. It’s not a planet, and it looks like an asteroid, moves like a comet, and doesn’t show a trace of a tail. The object also appeared to have a width six times larger than its thickness, which are coincidentally the rough proportions of one wafer of an Oreo cookie, Desch wrote. Eventually, Jackson and Desch devised computer models that helped them determine Oumuamua was most likely a chunk of nitrogen ice being gradually eroded.
It’s a little less exciting than the alternative (alien cookie). “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 statement. “But it’s important in science not to jump to conclusions.” The AP does report, however, that Harvard University’s Avi Loeb disputes the findings and “stands by his premise that the object appears to be more artificial than natural,” like something from an alien civilization. Alien cookie!