Earth trojan

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The orbit of 2010 TK7, the first Earth trojan to be discovered (left). Lagrangian points L4 and L5. Lines around the blue triangles represent tadpole orbits (right)

An Earth trojan is an asteroid that orbits the Sun in the vicinity of the Earth–Sun Lagrangian points L4 (leading 60°) or L5 (trailing 60°), thus having an orbit similar to Earth's. Only two Earth trojans have so far been discovered. The name "trojan" was first used in 1906 for the Jupiter trojans, the asteroids that were observed near the Lagrangian points of Jupiter's orbit.

Members[edit]

2010 TK7, one of the two known Earth trojans, is located at the lower right, circled by a small green ring.

L4 (leading)[edit]

L5 (trailing)[edit]

  • No known objects are currently thought to be L5 trojans of Earth.

Searches[edit]

An Earth-based search for L5 objects was conducted in 1994, covering 0.35 square degrees of sky, under poor observing conditions.[5] That search failed to detect any objects:

"The limiting sensitivity of this search was magnitude ~22.8, corresponding to C-type asteroids ~350 m in diameter, or S-type asteroids ~175 m in diameter."[5]

In February 2017, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft performed a search from within the L4 region on its way to asteroid Bennu.[6] No additional Earth trojans were discovered.[7]

In April 2017, the Hayabusa2 spacecraft searched the L5 region while proceeding to asteroid Ryugu,[8] but did not find any asteroids there.[9]

Significance[edit]

The orbits of any Earth trojans could make them less energetically costly to reach than the Moon, even though they will be hundreds of times more distant. Such asteroids could one day be useful as sources of elements that are rare near Earth's surface. On Earth, siderophiles such as iridium are difficult to find, having largely sunk to the core of the planet shortly after its formation.

A small asteroid could be a rich source of such elements even if its overall composition is similar to Earth's; because of their small size, such bodies would lose heat much more rapidly than a planet once they had formed, and so would not have melted, a prerequisite for differentiation (even if they differentiated, the core would still be within reach). Their weak gravitational fields also would have inhibited significant separation of denser and lighter material; a mass the size of 2010 TK7 would exert a surface gravitational force of less than 0.00005 times that of Earth (although the asteroid's rotation could cause separation).

Giant-impact hypothesis[edit]

A hypothetical planet-sized Earth trojan the size of Mars, given the name Theia, is thought by proponents of the giant-impact hypothesis to be the origin of the Moon. The hypothesis states that the Moon formed after Earth and Theia collided,[10] showering material from the two planets into space. This material eventually accreted around Earth and into a single orbiting body, the Moon.[11]

At the same time, material from Theia mixed and combined with Earth's mantle and core. Supporters of the giant-impact hypothesis theorise that Earth's large core in relation to its overall volume is as a result of this combination.

Continuing interest in near-Earth asteroids[edit]

Astronomy continues to retain interest in the subject. A publication[12] describes these reasons thus:

The survival to the present day of an ancient [Earth Trojan] population is reasonably assured provided Earth's orbit itself was not strongly perturbed since its formation. It is therefore pertinent to consider that modern theoretical models of planet formation find strongly chaotic orbital evolution during the final stages of assembly of the terrestrial planets and the Earth–Moon system.

Such chaotic evolution may at first sight appear unfavorable to the survival of a primordial population of [Earth trojans]. However, during and after the chaotic assembly of the terrestrial planets, it is likely that a residual planetesimal population, of a few percent of Earth's mass, was present and helped to damp the orbital eccentricities and inclinations of the terrestrial planets to their observed low values, as well as to provide the so-called "late veneer" of accreting planetesimals to account for the abundance patterns of the highly siderophile elements in Earth's mantle.

Such a residual planetesimal population would also naturally lead to a small fraction trapped in the Earth's Trojan zones as Earth's orbit circularized. In addition to potentially hosting an ancient, long-term stable population of asteroids, Earth's Trojan regions also provide transient traps for NEOs that originate from more distal reservoirs of small bodies in the solar system like the main asteroid belt.

Other companions of Earth[edit]

Several other small objects have been found on an orbital path associated with Earth. Although these objects are in 1:1 orbital resonance, they are not Earth trojans, because they do not librate around a definite Sun–Earth Lagrangian point, neither L4 nor L5.

Earth has another noted companion, asteroid 3753 Cruithne. About 5 km across, it has a peculiar type of orbital resonance called an overlapping horseshoe, and is probably only a temporary liaison.[13]

469219 Kamoʻoalewa, an asteroid discovered on 27 April 2016, is possibly the most stable quasi-satellite of Earth.[14]

Known and suspected companions of Earth
Name Eccentricity Diameter
(m)
Discoverer Year of Discovery Type Current Type
Moon 0.055 3474800 ? ? Natural satellite Natural satellite
1913 Great Meteor Procession ? ? ? 9 February 1913 Possible Temporary satellite Destroyed
3753 Cruithne 0.515 5000 Duncan Waldron 10 October 1986 Quasi-satellite Horseshoe orbit
1991 VG 0.053 5–12 Spacewatch 6 November 1991 Temporary satellite Apollo asteroid
(85770) 1998 UP1 0.345 210–470 Lincoln Lab's ETS 18 October 1998 Horseshoe orbit Horseshoe orbit
54509 YORP 0.230 124 Lincoln Lab's ETS 3 August 2000 Horseshoe orbit Horseshoe orbit
2001 GO2 0.168 35–85 Lincoln Lab's ETS 13 April 2001 Possible Horseshoe orbit Possible Horseshoe orbit
2002 AA29 0.013 20–100 LINEAR 9 January 2002 Quasi-satellite Horseshoe orbit
2003 YN107 0.014 10–30 LINEAR 20 December 2003 Quasi-satellite Horseshoe orbit
(164207) 2004 GU9 0.136 160–360 LINEAR 13 April 2004 Quasi-satellite Quasi-satellite
(277810) 2006 FV35 0.377 140–320 Spacewatch 29 March 2006 Quasi-satellite Quasi-satellite
2006 JY26 0.083 6–13 Catalina Sky Survey 6 May 2006 Horseshoe orbit Horseshoe orbit
2006 RH120 0.024 2–3 Catalina Sky Survey 14 September 2006 Temporary satellite Apollo asteroid
(419624) 2010 SO16 0.075 357 WISE 17 September 2010 Horseshoe orbit Horseshoe orbit
2010 TK7 0.191 150–500 WISE 1 October 2010 Earth trojan Earth trojan
2013 BS45 0.083 20–40 Spacewatch 20 January 2010 Horseshoe orbit Horseshoe orbit
2013 LX28 0.452 130–300 Pan-STARRS 12 June 2013 Quasi-satellite temporary Quasi-satellite temporary
2014 OL339 0.461 70–160 EURONEAR 29 July 2014 Quasi-satellite temporary Quasi-satellite temporary
2015 SO2 0.108 50–110 Črni Vrh Observatory 21 September 2015 Quasi-satellite Horseshoe orbit temporary
2015 XX169 0.184 9–22 Mount Lemmon Survey 9 December 2015 Horseshoe orbit temporary Horseshoe orbit temporary
2015 YA 0.279 9–22 Catalina Sky Survey 16 December 2015 Horseshoe orbit temporary Horseshoe orbit temporary
2015 YQ1 0.404 7–16 Mount Lemmon Survey 19 December 2015 Horseshoe orbit temporary Horseshoe orbit temporary
469219 Kamoʻoalewa 0.104 40-100 Pan-STARRS 27 April 2016 Quasi-satellite stable Quasi-satellite stable
DN16082203 ? ? ? 22 August 2016 Possible Temporary satellite Destroyed
2020 CD3 0.017 1–6 Mount Lemmon Survey 15 February 2020 Temporary satellite Temporary satellite
2020 PN1 0.127 10–50 ATLAS-HKO 12 August 2020 Horseshoe orbit temporary Horseshoe orbit temporary
2020 PP1 0.074 10–20 Pan-STARRS 12 August 2020 Quasi-satellite stable Quasi-satellite stable
2020 XL5 0.387 1180±80 Pan-STARRS 12 December 2020 Earth trojan Earth trojan


See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Reilly, M. (27 July 2011). "Earth stalker found in eternal twilight". New Scientist. Retrieved 2014-02-21.
  2. ^ Choi, C.Q. (27 July 2011). "First asteroid companion of Earth discovered at last". Space.com. Retrieved 2011-07-27.
  3. ^ "OSIRIS-REx searches for Earth-trojan asteroids" (Press release). NASA. 9 February 2017.
  4. ^ Hui, Man-To; Wiegert, Paul A.; Tholen, David J.; Föhring, Dora (November 2021). "The second Earth trojan 2020 XL5". The Astrophysical Journal Letters. 922 (2): L25. arXiv:2111.05058. Bibcode:2021ApJ...922L..25H. doi:10.3847/2041-8213/ac37bf. S2CID 243860678.
  5. ^ a b Whiteley, Robert J.; Tholen, David J. (1998). "CCD search for Lagrangian asteroids of the Earth–Sun system". Icarus. 136: 154–167. article no. IS985995A. Received 24 November 1997; revised 13 April 1998.
  6. ^ "NASA mission to search for rare asteroids" (Press release). NASA. Retrieved 2017-03-01.
  7. ^ "OSIRIS-REx asteroid search tests instruments". NASA. Retrieved 2017-03-24.
  8. ^ "太陽−地球系のL5点付近の観測について". JAXA. 2017-04-11. Retrieved 2017-04-18.
  9. ^ Mission status of Hayabusa2 (PDF). 49th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference 2018. Retrieved 2018-08-10.
  10. ^ Knapton, Sarah (29 January 2016). "Earth is actually two planets, scientists conclude". The Telegraph.
  11. ^ "The Theia hypothesis: New evidence emerges that Earth and Moon were once the same". The Daily Galaxy. 2007-07-05. Retrieved 2013-11-13.
  12. ^ Malhotra, Renu (February 18, 2019). "The case for a deep search for Earth's Trojan asteroids". Nature Astronomy. 3 (3): 193–194. arXiv:1903.01922. Bibcode:2019NatAs...3..193M. doi:10.1038/s41550-019-0697-z. S2CID 119333756.
  13. ^ Murray, C. (1997). "The Earth's secret companion". Nature. 387 (6634): 651–652. Bibcode:1997Natur.387..651M. doi:10.1038/42585.
  14. ^ Agle, D.C.; Brown, Dwayne; Cantillo, Laurie (15 June 2016). "Small asteroid is Earth's constant companion". NASA / JPL. Retrieved 15 June 2016.