Scientists have spent years attempting to answer the one question we all want to know: Are we the only ones in this Universe? So, it appears that we now have a neighbor that we were previously unaware of. The incredible finding of an asteroid over a kilometer large traveling around the Sun alongside Earth was made by the 1-meter SOAR (Southern Astrophysical Research) Telescope on Cerro Pachon in Chile. The discovery proves the existence of a second Earth-like Trojan asteroid, which is typically located in the belt between Mars and Jupiter.
Toni Santana-Ros of the University of Alicante and the Institute of Cosmos Sciences of the University of Barcelona saw the biggest asteroid ever discovered, 2020 XL5.
According to astronomers, Trojan asteroids exist on various planets in the Solar System. However, 2020 XL5 is just the second known Trojan asteroid discovered near Earth. “Trojans are objects that share an orbit with a planet and are crowded around one of two particular gravitationally balanced zones along the planet’s orbit known as Lagrange points,” explained Cesar Briceno, one of the paper’s primary authors.
Astronomers spotted 2020 XL5 using the Pan-STARRS1 survey telescope in Hawai’i and discovered that it is substantially larger than the first Earth Trojan detected, 2010 TK7.
The 2020 XL5 has a diameter of around 1.2 kilometers (0.73 miles), is nearly three times as broad as the original 2010 TK7, and is projected to be less than 400 meters or yards across. Initially, scientists had no idea about its orbit and assumed it was just another near-Earth object orbiting the Sun-like other asteroids.
The researchers then discovered data from sightings surrounding the asteroid dating back a decade, giving them a clearer picture of the object and its orbit. They anticipate that the asteroid will not stay our neighbor indefinitely based on the huge data they have gathered, will remain stable in its place for at least another 4000 years. Still, it will ultimately be gravitationally disrupted and escape into space.
“SOAR’s data enabled us to do a preliminary photometric examination of the object, suggesting that 2020 XL5 is most likely a C-type asteroid with a size greater than one kilometre,” Santana-Ros explains.
A C-type asteroid is black, has a high carbon content, and is the most frequent asteroid observed in the Solar System.
“If we locate additional Earth Trojans, and some of them have orbits with lower inclinations, they may become less expensive to approach than our Moon.” As a result, they might become suitable locations for expanded study of the Solar System, or possibly a source of resources,” Briceno explains.