Research

Ancient, exiled asteroid discovered beyond Neptune

Ancient, exiled asteroid discovered beyond Neptune

The asteroid's reflectance spectrum - the specific pattern of wavelengths of light reflected from an object - was different to that of similar small Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs), which typically have uninteresting, featureless spectra that reveal little information about their composition. But even more interestingly, this means that the asteroid (and others of its kind) could provide insight as to how the solar system looked in its earlier days.

A 300-kilometer-long asteroid, which is rich in carbon and moves in the distant Kaper at the edge of our solar system, about four billion kilometers from Earth, has discovered an worldwide team of astronomers.

The discovery of 2004 EW95, made by an global team of astronomers using ESO's Very Large Telescope, helps strengthen theories about the dynamical evolution of the Solar System that describes how the planets ended up where we see them today. A team of astronomers led by Tom Seccull of Queen's University Belfast have just used the Very Large Telescope in Chile to study a 181 foot (291 meter) asteroid named 2004 EW95, and have conclusively determined it has carbon inside it.

This makes it "a relic of the primordial Solar System", they added.

Astronomers using European Southern Observatory (ESO) telescopes have discovered an ancient asteroid, one that formed billions of years ago and was ejected into the farther, icy reaches of our solar system.

So how did the asteroid, which likely originated in the inner parts of our solar system, migrate so much?

"It's like observing a giant mountain of coal against the pitch-black canvas of the night sky", said Thomas Puzia, an astronomer at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and co-author of the research paper. After painstaking measurements from multiple instruments at ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT), a small team of astronomers led by Tom Seccull of Queen's University Belfast in the United Kingdom was able to measure the composition of the anomalous Kuiper Belt Object 2004 EW95, and thus determine that it is a carbonaceous asteroid. Nevertheless, researchers were able to identify two features from the object's spectra that corresponded to the presence of ferric oxides and phyllosilicates.

It's believed that our solar system's gas giants caused quite a ruckus in their infancies.

Their finding, which was published Wednesday, suggests that 2004 EW95 is the first of a new class of space objects lurking in the outer solar system, in a vast, frigid region known as the Kuiper belt that still contains many mysteries.

"The discovery of a carbonaceous asteroid in the Kuiper Belt is a key verification of one of the fundamental predictions of dynamical models of the early Solar System", said ESO astronomer Olivier Hainaut. It is the first time that such an asteroid carbonate, a remnant of the primitive solar system, is discovered in that frozen area.

The dramatic distance and the asteroid's relatively small size make it an extremely hard target to track, and the fact that it features carbon molecules, which makes it appear darker in color, doesn't make it any easier.