The interstellar asteroid ‘Oumuamua that is visiting our solar system from across the universe probably has an icy heart and dry skin, according to new astronomical observations. 

It also looks eerily familiar.

Scientists announced the asteroid in November — the first discovered that had an origin outside our solar system. It’s dark reddish in color and super long, similar to a cigar or a crayon.

But its alien birth and strange shape are not the only things that make the asteroid special. According to a report in the journal Nature Astronomy, data taken from ‘Oumuamua suggests it does not have ice on its surface — rather, bombardment from cosmic rays in outer space has led to it being covered in organic matter that now protects its interior. That protection would keep the inside nice and cool, even when the asteroid passed close to the sun.

“We have discovered that the surface of ‘Oumuamua is similar to small solar system bodies that are covered in carbon-rich ices, whose structure is modified by exposure to cosmic rays,” researcher Alan Fitzsimmons said in a statement from Queen’s University Belfast. “We have also found that a half-meter-thick coating of organic-rich material could have protected a water-ice-rich, comet-like interior from vaporizing when the object was heated by the sun, even though it was heated to over 300 degrees centigrade.”

Another paper, published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, investigated the color of ‘Oumuamua. The authors described it as being similar to some things that can be found in the Kuiper Belt, a disk of material in the outer solar system that is full of rocky and icy objects, and to Jupiter trojans, which are asteroids that orbit the sun at the same distance as the gas giant.

oumuamua-asteroid Scientists are looking for alien signals from the bizarre-looking asteroid that is the first to visit our solar system from another place. Photo: ESO/M. Kornmesser

That similarity shows other solar systems could work in the same way as our own.

“It’s fascinating that the first interstellar object discovered looks so much like a tiny world from our own home system,” researcher Michele Bannister said in the university statement. “This suggests that the way our planets and asteroids formed has a lot of kinship to the systems around other stars.”

It remains a mystery where the asteroid came from. The ESO said last month that although its trajectory suggests it came from the direction of the star Vega, the speed it has traveled on its journey means the rock would have departed that area around 300,000 years ago — when Vega was located elsewhere. Still, it was likely ejected from a solar system somewhere.

“During the formation and evolution of the solar system, significant numbers of cometary and asteroidal bodies were ejected into interstellar space,” the new study says. “It is reasonable to expect that the same happened for planetary systems other than our own.”

For that reason, what happened in the case of ‘Oumuamua could tell scientists more about how planets formed in other systems.

Although it is an alien traveler to our solar system, it may not have any relation to extraterrestrial life — at least not of an intelligent nature. Scientists with the group Breakthrough Listen, which searches the universe for signs of alien life, has been looking for radio signals from the asteroid that could indicate extraterrestrials but has so far come up empty.