Exiled asteroid gives glimpse into early solar system

For the first time in history researchers have conducted an in-depth study on a carbon-rich asteroid hiding out in the Kuiper Belt.
By Joseph Scalise | May 11, 2018
An exiled asteroid floating out in the Kuiper Belt may give scientists a brand new look into the early days of our solar system.

The rock -- known as EW95 and analyzed by a group of international astronomers -- likely formed in the asteroid belt that sits between Mars and Jupiter. However, soon after it came into existence the body shot out into the Kuiper belt, where it then remained for millions of years.

Our solar system was once much more chaotic than it is today. Theoretical models suggests that, during the early stages, objects were hurled from the inner system to distant orbits. Based on that, the Kuiper Belt should hold objects like carbon-rich asteroids.

Past research has found objects that originated in the inner solar system far out beyond that point, which gives credence to the theoretical models. However, while such studies indicated those objects were made of substances not normally found in the region they were at,this is the first time in history researchers have definitively observed a carbon-rich asteroid as far as the Kuiper belt.

Scientists first spotted the rock with the Hubble Space Telescope. They managed to pick it out because it has a unique reflectance spectrum, a term that refers to a pattern of wavelengths of light reflected from an object.

"It's like observing a giant mountain of coal against the pitch-black canvas of the night sky," said study co-author Thomas Puzia, a researcher at the Pontificia Universidad Catlica de Chile, in a statement.

As difficult as it was to study the rock, the team used advanced data processing to gather a wide range of information on it. That is important because such data could give astronomers aglimpse into our early solar system and help them better understand how it became the way that it is today.

"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 Olivier Hainaut, a researcher at the European Space Observatory who was not involved in the research, according to Space.com.

These findings are outlined in the journalThe Astrophysical Journal Letters.


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