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The Icy Secrets of an Interstellar Visitor

The mysterious space object 'Oumuamua may harbor ice under a crust hardened by cosmic radiation.
Source: ESO / M. Kornmesser

To telescopes, ‘Oumuamua, the interstellar asteroid that made itself known to Earth in October, looks like a point of light in the dark, much like a star in the night sky—a perhaps underwhelming picture of a significant discovery.

But for astronomers, the tiny speck—the sunlight reflected by the asteroid—can reveal a trove of information. They can break down the light from an object into a spectrum of individual wavelengths, from which they can infer the object’s shape, chemical composition, and other

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