(ORDO NEWS) — Asteroid 2019 LD2 falls into the Jupiter Trojan asteroid category. This is part of an asteroid swarm that revolves around the Sun in front of Jupiter, like the vanguard on the planet’s path. But this asteroid is not like its friends.
On Wednesday, astronomers from the NASA-based Asteroid Hazard Warning System project announced the discovery of “the first known Trojan asteroid of Jupiter to have a comet-like tail.”
Usually the difference between asteroids and comets is quite clear. NASA describes asteroids as “rocky fragments” left over from the formation of the solar system, and comets as “cosmic snowballs of gas and dust.”
ATLAS first discovered 2019 LD2 in mid-2019. On closer inspection and in later images, the tail of the asteroid was full of dust and gas.
The asteroid disappeared from view and reappeared in April 2020. “These observations showed that LD2 2019 is probably continuously active for a whole year.”
This posed a mystery to scientists: why does this asteroid behave like a comet?
Researchers say that most of Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids were captured on orbital paths billions of years ago, long ago dropping the surface material that usually forms the comet’s tail.
This means that LD2 2019 may be new to the swarm of asteroids, or it crashed into something.
“For decades, we believed that Trojan asteroids should have a large amount of ice beneath their surfaces, but before that there was no evidence. ATLAS has proven that predictions about icy nature may well be correct, ”said Alan Fitzsimmons, an astronomer at Queen’s University in Belfast.
The main task of ATLAS is to detect potentially dangerous space objects that may be a problem for the Earth, but this strange asteroid is not one of them.
The University of Hawaii called it “harmless but interesting.”
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