After passing several billion kilometers to the Sun, a young comet-like object orbiting among the giant planets found a temporary stop along the way. He settled near a family of captured ancient asteroids – Trojans, according to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
Trojan asteroids revolve around the sun next to Jupiter. Astronomers observe the phenomenon for the first time when a comet-like object is seen near a population of Trojans.
The unexpected visitor belongs to the class of ice bodies found in space between Jupiter and Neptune. Such comet-like objects are called “centaurs”. They first become active when they heat up as they approach the Sun, and dynamically become more comet-like.
Visible-light images taken by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope show that the roaming object has signs of cometary activity – a tail, a jet of gas and dust, and gas enveloping in a coma. Previous observations by NASA’s Spitzer space telescope have provided clues to the comet-like object’s composition and the gases that govern its activity.
Computer simulations carried out by the research team show that an icy object called P/2019 LD2 (LD2) likely swung towards Jupiter about two years ago. Then the planet gravitationally struck the guest into the orbit of the Trojan asteroid group.
While the location of LD2 is surprising, scientists are wondering if this pit stop could be common for some comets heading towards the sun.
The unexpected visitor is likely to linger among the asteroids for a short while. Computer simulations show that it will collide with Jupiter again in about two years. The huge planet will “push” the comet again and it will continue its journey in the inner region of the solar system.