Astronomers are surprised by an asteroid behind Mars, which is a...

An asteroid following Mars certainly looks a lot like parts of the moon.


Trojan asteroids have the same orbit as certain planets, either leading in front of the planet or running after it. Jupiter is famous for its many Trojansbut Mars has some of them too. One of those Mars companions – Asteroid (101429) 1998 VF31 – could be a stunt double for our own moon.

A team led by researchers at the Armagh Observatory and Planetarium (AOP) in Northern Ireland took a close look at the composition of asteroid 101429 and found some fascinating compounds in a study published online for the January 2021 issue of Icarus magazine made to our lunar neighbor August 1st.

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The planetary scientists used the X-Shooter spectrograph on the Very Large Telescope at the European Southern Observatory in Chile to study how sunlight is reflected off the surface of the asteroid. They analyzed this data and compared it with other known space bodies.

Previous observations of the asteroid, which is in the same orbit behind Mars, led the team to believe that it might have a similar composition to a common type of meteorite. “To their surprise, they found that the best spectral match was not with other small bodies, but with our closest neighbor, the moon,” said lead author Apostolos Christou in an AOP statement on Tuesday.

Study co-author Galin Borisov, with AOP, described asteroid 101429 as a “dead alarm clock for parts of the moon that have exposed bedrock such as crater interiors and mountains”.

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What is the history of the formation of the asteroid? The researchers suggested several options. While it may resemble the common meteorite, its space adventures have only worn it out over time.

It could possibly be a piece of the moon. Christou described the debris-filled early solar system when the moon was struck by large asteroids: “A shard of such a collision could have reached the orbit of Mars while the planet was still forming and trapped in its Trojan clouds,” he said .

A third idea is that the asteroid was thrown from Mars by a similar impact scenario. Christou described this concept as “maybe more likely”.

The asteroid remains an open puzzle, but if the moon ever needs a proxy for a few days, we know who to call.

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