After traveling several billion miles toward the Sun, a wayward young comet-like object orbiting among the giant planets has found a temporary parking place along the way. The object has settled near a family of captured ancient asteroids, called Trojans, that are orbiting the Sun alongside Jupiter. This is the first time a comet-like object has been spotted near the Trojan population. Astronomers found a roaming comet taking a rest stop before possibly continuing its journey. The wayward object made a temporary stop near giant Jupiter. The icy visitor has plenty of company. It has settled near the family of captured asteroids known as Trojans that are co-orbiting the Sun alongside Jupiter. This is the first time a comet-like object has been spotted near the 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.
The unexpected visitor belongs to a class of icy bodies found in space between Jupiter and Neptune. Called “Centaurs,” they become active for the first time when heated as they approach the Sun, and dynamically transition into becoming more comet-like.
Visible-light snapshots by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope reveal that the vagabond object shows signs of comet activity, such as a tail, outgassing in the form of jets, and an enshrouding coma of dust and gas. Earlier observations by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope gave clues to the composition of the comet-like object and the gasses driving its activity.
Featured image courtesy of Credits: NASA, ESA, and B. Bolin (Caltech)