This asteroid is much smaller than the red planet. Otherwise known as a Trojan, it follows a planet’s orbit because it is gravitationally trapped 60 degrees in front of or behind that planet. It could possibly have broken off from the moon when intense collisions were still shaping the early solar system. An international team of astronomers and planetary researchers at the Armagh Observatory and Planetarium (AOP) in Northern Ireland observed this with the X-SHOOTER spectrograph on the Very Large Telescope. X-SHOOTER (which sounds totally like Star Wars tech that goes with an X-Wing) revealed something strange.
It turns out that despite Mars lagging behind, asteroid 101429 appears to share DNA with the moon. Further studies will show whether it is actually a lunar shard that broke off in a massive crash billions of years ago. It could have come from Mars or from the main inner belt of the asteroids. However, X-SHOOTER measured its brightness at different wavelengths of light which showed its spectral profile. The research team led by the astronomer Apostolos Christou, who recently led a study published in Ikarus, realized that its spectral DNA had more in common with the moon than anything else.
“Asteroids shine through reflected sunlight so that the profile determined by X-SHOOTER always shows the spectrum of the sun,” Christou told SYFY wire. “But astronomers can explain that and create a profile that is characteristic of the asteroid that produced it. This can then be used to compare the asteroid to other asteroids, meteorites, or even planetary surfaces. ”
What kind of minerals are present on the surface of an asteroid can be determined by their different colors, which is why spectral profiles can reveal where this piece of cosmic debris came from, but this is not always easy to find out. Sometimes they share DNA with more than one other object. The spectrum of 101429 showed high pyroxene values, as are common with objects the size of a planet. The lunar surface has an abundance of pyroxes. Most of it is found in walls and craters, but this mineral is also found in smaller but still significant amounts on Mars, but Mars has the amount of pyroxene it needs because it is much larger than the moon.
The suspicion of Mars was stronger when 101429 was more closely related to the other Trojans to which it was related, the Eureka family. The problem is that their chemical compositions do not match. 101429 is rich in pyroxene, while the Eureka asteroids are high in olivine. This is an indication of their origin in a planetary mantle. Olivine is usually found deep in the mantle of a planet’s innards, while pyroxene tends to be in the crust. Christou believes that there is another reason why a Martian origin might be possible.
“One of the origins of this asteroid from Mars is appealing in that it requires less energy – hence a smaller impactor – to throw the asteroid from Mars to its Trojan clouds than it does from the moon. ” he said.
Mars has a crater that could give away the origins of 101429. Its Borealis Basin is almost as wide as the entire planet, and anything ejected from the collision that left a crater in that location would have made it easy for the rubble to make it to where 101429 is now.
That still doesn’t rule out the moon. What planets and other bodies are made of is related to what materials are available in the area in which they are formed. The moon and Mars are largely made of the same material, and although the amounts vary, it means they formed roughly the same distance from the sun. Trojans arouse so much scientific curiosity because they are relics from the early stages of the solar system, when larger planets and moons form. A few Mars Trojans have been found closer to the Sun, which should be understandable as their composition suggests that they must have formed in the same area.
“Water and other volatile substances don’t exist in solid form near the sun, and all you need to make planets is stone and metal,” said Christou.
So is there an ultimate way to prove whether 101429 is a disembodied piece of the Moon or Mars? Before this can happen, more data is required. The only way to be sure is to measure its composition directly or send out a spaceship to capture a sample and bring it back to Earth. Coming telescopes that are more powerful than anything we have right now, like the James Webb Telescope and the Vera C. Rubin Observatory, could beam us with this information, and GAIA could see something in the meantime.
At the moment it looks like Mars has a fan base.
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