Recently, astronomers are able to track and study a relatively new type of asteroid that behaves like a comet.
Astronomers have a clear distinction between an asteroid and a comet. A comet usually has a tail and traverses long and looping orbits. On the other hand, asteroids are dry, rocky, and follows an orbit similar to a planet.
Recently, astronomers discover a new type of cosmic body that shares both these unique distinctions. They call it asteroid 2019 LD2, and many astronomers consider it somewhat special. This particular cosmic body is known as a ‘Jupiter Trojan.’
A new understanding of space bodies
The ATLAS project by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration first identify this new type of space rock. It is the first documented sighting of what experts call Jupiter Trojan, and they give it a name: 2019 LD2.
Object 2019 LD2 is being hailed as Jupiter's first-known Trojan that is showing cometary activity.
Except… It's not a Trojan, or a Hilda. It regularly makes very close passages to Jupiter, and sometimes Saturn.https://t.co/iOObT9KZ8bhttps://t.co/gtwMVU7n4D pic.twitter.com/KFdZQ0L6YF
— Tony Dunn (@tony873004) May 22, 2020
While 2019 LD2 is technically an asteroid, it does exhibit some behaviors that are commonly associated with comets. The most striking of this is that 2019 LD2 has a tail.
Due to this recent discovery, astronomers confirm that Jupiter Trojans have ice under their surface. This is a completely new understanding of how space bodies behave and their composition.
In a statement Queen’s University astronomer Alan Fitzsimmons says:
“We have believed for decades that Trojan asteroids should have large amounts of ice beneath their surfaces, but never had any evidence until now.”
A rare discovery
Astronomers study and track hundreds of Jupiter Trojans. However, it is only until recently that they can confirm their theory about these bodies having ice. As the name implies, these Trojans occupy an orbit near the planet Jupiter.
This is a rare and important discovery for astronomers. If they can track and closely study these cosmic bodies, they might hold the secret to the galaxy.
Some astronomers believe that the ice beneath 2019 LD2’s surface got expose after it collided with another space body. Another theory is that it might have flown too far out of the Solar System where it is very cold. Too much exposure to this very cold temperature can cause the formation of the ice.
Astronomers cannot still very which of these theories are true. They are still gathering more data on the cosmic body.
Next year, NASA is launching a spacecraft to study Jupiter Trojans. While the spacecraft will take years to reach its target, astronomers are excited to observe these cosmic bodies.
Image courtesy of NASA Hubble/Wikimedia Commons