Earth has an additional satellite – a Trojan asteroid

(ORDO NEWS) — It is the second Trojan asteroid ever seen on Earth, and the largest asteroid of its type ever seen.

Trojan asteroids are small space rocks that share their orbit with a planet, orbiting in a stable orbit around their host star. Although we have already observed Trojan asteroids around other planets in our solar system, so far only one of these objects, named 2010 TK7, has been confirmed to have the same orbit as the Earth.

In a new study, scientists have confirmed that an asteroid spotted in 2020 and named 2020 XL5 is the second object of its kind to be called an Earth Trojan asteroid. Consider it an additional satellite of the Earth, albeit a very tiny one.

In December 2020, 2020 XL5 was spotted by astronomers using the Pan-STARRS 1 Survey Telescope in Hawaii and added to the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center database.

Amateur astronomer Tony Dunn calculated the object’s trajectory using NASA‘s JPL-Horizon public domain software and found it orbiting L4, the fourth Lagrange point between Earth and the Sun, a gravitationally balanced region around our planet and star. 2010 TK7, the first confirmed terrestrial Trojan asteroid, also lies at L4.

To confirm whether it is a Trojan asteroid, the Santana-Ros-led team observed the object with the SOAR (Southern Astrophysical Research) telescope in Chile, as well as the Lowell Discovery telescope in Arizona and the European Space Agency’s optical ground station in Tenerife in the Canary Islands.

“These were very challenging observations requiring the telescope to properly track at its lowest altitude limit as the object was very low on the western horizon at dawn,” study co-author Cesar Bricegno, a researcher at the National Science Foundation’s National Laboratory (NOIRLab), said in a statement. .

“SOAR data allowed us to make the first photometric analysis of the object, showing that 2020 XL5 is most likely a C-type asteroid,” Santana-Ros said in a statement.

The study also showed that this object is much larger than Earth’s first Trojan asteroid found. The 2020 XL5 is about 0.73 miles (1.2 km) across, nearly three times the size of the 2010 TK7, which is only about 0.25 miles (0.4 km) wide.

“If we can discover more Earth Trojans, and if some of them have lower inclination orbits, then it will be cheaper to get to them than to our Moon,” Bricegno said. “Thus, they could be ideal bases for advanced exploration of the solar system, or even a source of resources.”


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