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The Age of Interstellar Visitors

With this upcoming data, we are on the brink of finally putting together a coherent theory for how planetary systems form, grow, and change. Until now, physicists have studied each part of a system’s life span independently, stringing together bite-size boxes of physics spanning over a billion years and 36 orders of magnitude in mass. Direct samples of systems beyond our own offer a chance to open up this picture with “ground truth.” After all, it’s hard to know what we’re not imagining. The scarce data we gleaned on ʻOumuamua left a flotilla of theories for its origin in its wake. Mere months later, the New Horizons spacecraft showed that a primordial world sitting in our Kuiper belt, Arrokoth, has a strange shape that went entirely unpredicted by formation theory: two pancakes gently docked together in a contact binary. If our own solar system can hide such wonders, what will the next interstellar wanderer reveal?

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