Mysterious 'exiled' asteroid found in far reaches of solar system

Lonely 'exiled weirdo asteroid' found on the edge of our solar system

The discovery is significant because scientists believe that this object formed in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and was catapulted billions of miles from its home in the initial states of the solar system, when the gas giants (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune) were formed.

Seccull and his team observed 2004 EW95using the X-Shooter and FORS2 spectrographs on the ESO's VeryLarge Telescope (VLT), and despite the sensitivity of these instruments, the team had great difficulty gathering data from the asteroid.

The asteroid - called 2004 EW95 -has been found in 2004 orbiting about 2.5 billion kilometers (4 billion km) from Earth from the donut-shaped ring of rock and ice at the edge of the solar system known as that the Kuiper Belt. This is unusual because the asteroid is thought to have originated in the asteroid belt in between Mars and Jupiter.

"It looked enough of a weirdo for us to take a closer look", said study lead author Tom Seccull of Queen's University Belfast. Models of the early solar system are often chaotic, with planets and other bodies getting flung around before things settled into steadier orbits, and the best explanation for this lonely carbon asteroid is that it was launched out there during this primordial chaos.

Some scientific models already suggested that some carbonaceous asteroids could have been expelled to the Kuiper belt, but until now no one had been able to detect it reliably. On the other hand, the asteroid's light reflection information indicated 2004 EW95 also lasted a huge blow which caused it to warm up appreciably.

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Despite its distant location, the scientists think understanding more about 2004 EW95 will help them understand the turbulent early days of our solar system.

The asteroid was spotted partly because it reflects light differently than other objects in the Kuiper Belt, which are icy while asteroids are rocky.

But the research team was able to overcome the obstacles and identify clear signatures of carbon, iron oxides, and phyllosilicates (sheets of silicate minerals), all of which are elements commonly found in the inner solar system that had never been identified in a Kuiper Belt object.

"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".

Despite ever-advancing technology, many details of our solar system's early years are still shrouded in mystery. As astronomer Thomas Puccia of the Catholic University of Chile said, "it's like watching a giant coal mountain with a dark night sky background". "We had to use a pretty advanced data processing technique to get as much out of the data as possible".

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