A second ‘Earth Trojan’ asteroid to share our orbit for next 4,000 years - Vibes Of India

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A second ‘Earth Trojan’ asteroid to share our orbit for next 4,000 years

| Updated: February 3, 2022 16:34

Astronomers have confirmed the existence of a second Earth Trojan, now named 2020 XL5. It is a near-earth asteroid (NEO) that is expected to stay in orbit for the next 4,000 years before deviating away.

Trojans are asteroids that share the same orbit as our planet, going around the Sun.

The asteroid was discovered by the Pan-STARRS S1 telescope survey in December 2020 and is estimated to be about 1.18 km wide. The first known Earth Trojan asteroid was 2010 TK7, just about 0.3 km wide, and discovered in 2010. The Pan-STARRS, or Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System, is a ground-based telescope used for astronomical imaging, located at Haleakala Observatory in Hawaii.

2020 XL5 is a C-type or carbonaceous asteroid, the most common variety of asteroid, consisting of large amounts of carbon. Astronomers guess that this asteroid was kicked out of the asteroid belt by Jupiter’s gravity before getting captured here.

Trojans can share their orbit with the Earth because they tend to be present at one of the stable Lagrange Points in the Earth-Sun system. Lagrange points are five different points in a two-body system where the gravitational forces from the two bodies and the centrifugal forces balance each other, enabling another smaller body or a satellite to orbit stably here. Both Earth Trojans have been discovered in the L4 point, which is located 60 degrees in orbit ahead of Earth.

Trojans have been discovered orbiting along with other planets too. There are four Mars trojans, one Venus trojan, two Uranus trojans, 28 Neptune trojans, and over 500,000 Jupiter trojans. The largest Jupiter trojan, 624 Hector, is over 200 km wide.

Detecting Earth Trojans is difficult because they are located on the same plane as the Earth and the Sun. The L4 and L5 points are located 60 degrees from Earth, making them appear very close to the Sun. Thus, they are observable only during a short window at twilight, and are better visible from space.

To confirm that 2020 XL5 was a trojan, follow-up observations were made with telescopes in Chile, Arizona, and Canary Islands. The team further dug through archival surveys and used 10 years’ worth of data to understand the trojan better.

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