Asteroid Discovered in Kuiper Belt Was 'Exiled' From Inner Solar System
Astronomers have discovered a strange asteroid hiding within the most mysterious region of our solar system.
Using European Southern Observatory telescopes, scientists discovered Kuiper Belt Object 2004 EW9, the first carbon-rich asteroid to be found beyond Neptune, in the area stretching between 30 and 55 AU. Since carbonaceous objects are ubiquitous in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, scientists believe this object must have been “exiled” from the region long ago. The team’s research was published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters on March 15.
“The reflectance spectrum of 2004 EW95 was clearly distinct from the other observed outer Solar System objects,” the study’s lead author Tom Seccull, an astronomer at Queen’s University Belfast, says in a statement from the ESO. “It looked enough of a weirdo for us to take a closer look.”
Since 2004 EW95 is about 4 billion miles from Earth, it was extremely difficult to spot, even for highly trained astronomers with some of the best gear in the world. The team was able to confirm the object contains ferric oxides and phyllosilicates, which means it’s probably not from the Kuiper Belt, but a drifter from the inner solar system. Although other objects from the inner solar system have been found wandering in the Kuiper Belt, 2004 EW95 is unique because it’s the first carbon-rich object to be found in this region.
The Kuiper Belt is home to some of the oldest objects in our solar system. It’s primarily made up of icy, comet-like objects, which makes 2004 EW95 stick out even more.
It’s still unclear exactly how 2004 EW95 got so incredibly lost. The team suggests in their paper that it could be exactly what earlier models of solar system evolution predict — that some carbonaceous objects would be scattered within the inner solar system, and some would migrate outward. That doesn’t tell the entire story of this strange object, but at least it’s a start.
“Given 2004 EW95’s present-day abode in the icy outer reaches of the Solar System, this implies that it has been flung out into its present orbit by a migratory planet in the early days of the Solar System,” Seccull explains.
Even though this peculiar object is a long way from home, we’re glad scientists at least got to take a peek at it.