A comet has been spotted among Jupiter's ancient asteroids for the very first time

A comet has been spotted among Jupiter's ancient asteroids for the very first time
Astronomers found a roaming comet near the Jupiter's Trojan asteroid population. Hubble Space Telescope observations reveal the vagabond is showing signs of transitioning from a frigid asteroid-like body to an active comet, sprouting a long tail, outgassing jets of material, and enshrouding itself in a coma of dust and gas.NASA, ESA, and B. Bolin (Caltech)
  • The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Hubble telescope has caught a Centaur comet entering the orbit around Jupiter on camera for the very first time.
  • The images show that it is currently amidst Jupiter’s ancient asteroids called Trojans.
  • Scientists who made the discovery speculate that the comet had to have entered Jupiter’s orbit at just the right trajectory in order for this to happen.
A centaur flying into a bunch of trojans sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but that is exactly what is happening in the orbit of our solar system’s largest planet, Jupiter.

For the very first time, a Centaur comet has been caught on camera amidst Jupiter’s ancient asteroids called Trojans using the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s ( NASA) legendary Hubble Telescope.


Centaurs are small icy rocks that orbit the Sun between Jupiter and Neptune. Every once in a while, as they get closer to the Sun, these unstable balls of ice transform into comets upon being heated up.
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Trojans, on the other hand, are asteroids that only orbit Jupiter. There are over a million of them larger than 1 kilometer in diameter — that’s almost the same number of asteroids in the asteroid belt that divides the solar system’s inner four planets from the outer four.

"The cool thing is that you are actually catching Jupiter flinging this object around and changing its orbital behavior and bringing it into the inner system," said team member Carey Lisse of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in a statement.

The solar system is made up of two parts, the inner system and the outer system, divided by the asteroid belt. The inner system consists of Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars while the outer system is made up of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.
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A comet has been spotted among Jupiter's ancient asteroids for the very first time
The asteroid belt lies dividing the inner and outer solar system lies between Mars and JupiterIAU

How did this happen?
Honestly, even NASA does not know. Scientists who made the discovery speculate that the comet had to have entered Jupiter’s orbit at just the right trajectory to not burn up, and not just fly by either.

"Jupiter controls what is going on with comets once they get into the inner system by altering their orbits," explained Lisse.

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One possible explanation is that the Centaur, dubbed P/2019 LD2, is likely the latest member of the ‘bucket brigade’. These are comets that get kicked out of the Kuiper belt and into the orbits of large planets due to interactions with another Kuiper belt object before getting caught in a game of celestial pinball.

A comet has been spotted among Jupiter's ancient asteroids for the very first time
The Kuiper Belt lies along the outer edges of the solar systemNASA

The Kuiper belt is the asteroid belt’s outer solar system cousin. The haven of icy, leftover debris from our planet’s construction 4.6 billion years ago is located beyond even Neptune’s orbit. It contains millions of objects. Every once in a while, these objects have near misses or collisions that drastically alter their orbits from the Kuiper belt inward into the giant planet region.

And, P/2019 LD2, is likely one of the many icy relics on a bumpy towards the Sun. According to the researchers at NASA, members of the bucket brigade can spend nearly five million years sucked into the gravity of a large planet before crossing over into the inner solar system.
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On the other hand, it i also possible that the Centaur will never make the crossing. "Short-period comets like LD2 meet their fate by being thrown into the Sun and totally disintegrating, hitting a planet, or venturing too close to Jupiter once again and getting thrown out of the solar system, which is the usual fate," explained Lisse.

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