Astronomers discover new Trojan asteroid sharing Earth's orbit

Earth also seemed to lack Trojan asteroids until astronomers found one in 2010 at Lagrange point L4, 60 degrees in front of Earth. Subse...

Earth also seemed to lack Trojan asteroids until astronomers found one in 2010 at Lagrange point L4, 60 degrees in front of Earth. Subsequent searches proved fruitless until Pan-Starrs, an automated survey of the sky in Hawaii, revealed an intriguing object, 2020 XL5, which also appeared to be trapped around L4.

But the first observations were insufficient to define definitively the orbit of the object. In 2021, an international team of astronomers, including Dr. Santana-Ros, made additional observations of 2020 XL5 using three ground-based telescopes. The team was then able to search for images dating back to 2012 – where the asteroid actually appeared, although no one recognized it as such.

A decade of data was finally enough to firmly trace the elliptical orbit of the 2020 XL5. “We were 100% sure it was an Earth Trojan,” said Dr.

Although 2020 XL5 is trapped in an orbit around a stable Lagrange point, it is not particularly close to L4. Its elliptical orbit, inclined nearly 14 degrees to the orbit of the planets, sweeps it closer to the sun than Venus and almost as far away as Mars.

This makes it vulnerable to gravitational jerks from other planets, especially Venus.

Researchers performed computer simulations of 2020 XL5’s orbit, adjusting it 800 times. Sometimes the asteroid escaped from Lagrange’s point in 3,500 years; sometimes it has wandered 5,000 years or more. But it seems unlikely that the orbit will remain stable for much longer than that.

From the looks of it, 2020 XL5 is a dark, carbon-rich body, possibly an intruder in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Researchers estimate its diameter to be around three-quarters of a mile, much larger than the terrestrial Trojan horse discovered in 2010, which was estimated to be around a quarter-mile in diameter and is also located at Lagrange point L4.

While the two known terrestrial Trojans appear to be transitory additions to our orbital neighborhood, other bodies that hover closer to stable Lagrange points could remain in place indefinitely, raising the possibility that some of the primordial building blocks of Earth can still be there.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Astronomers discover new Trojan asteroid sharing Earth's orbit
Astronomers discover new Trojan asteroid sharing Earth's orbit
Newsrust - US Top News
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