Neptune trojan

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Neptune's L4 trojans with plutinos for reference.
  Neptune trojans (selection)
  · 2001 QR322
  · 2005 TN53
  · 2007 VL305
  · Pluto
  · Orcus
  · Ixion

Neptune trojans are bodies in orbit around the Sun that orbit near one of the stable Lagrangian points of Neptune. They therefore have approximately the same orbital period as Neptune and follow roughly the same orbital path. Twelve Neptune trojans are currently known, of which nine orbit near the SunNeptune L4 Lagrangian point 60° ahead of Neptune[1] and three orbit near Neptune's L5 region 60° behind Neptune.[1] The Neptune trojans are termed 'trojans' by analogy with the Jupiter trojans.

The discovery of 2005 TN53 in a high-inclination (>25°) orbit was significant, because it suggested a "thick" cloud of trojans[2] (Jupiter trojans have inclinations up to 40°[3]), which is indicative of freeze-in capture instead of in situ or collisional formation.[2] It is suspected that large (radius ≈ 100 km) Neptune trojans could outnumber Jupiter trojans by an order of magnitude.[4][5]

In 2010, the discovery of the first known L5 Neptune trojan, 2008 LC18, was announced.[6] Neptune's trailing L5 region is currently very difficult to observe because it is along the line-of-sight to the center of the Milky Way, an area of the sky crowded with stars.

It would have been possible for the New Horizons spacecraft to investigate 2011 HM102, the only L5 Neptune trojans discovered by 2014 detectable by New Horizons, when it passed through this region of space en route to Pluto.[5] However, New Horizons may not have had sufficient downlink bandwidth, so it was decided to give precedence to the preparations for the Pluto flyby.[7][8]

Discovery and exploration[edit]

In 2001, the first Neptune trojan was discovered, 2001 QR322, near Neptune's L4 region, and with it the fifth[note 1] known populated stable reservoir of small bodies in the Solar System. In 2005, the discovery of the high-inclination trojan 2005 TN53 has indicated that the Neptune trojans populate thick clouds, which has constrained their possible origins (see below).

On August 12, 2010, the first L5 trojan, 2008 LC18, was announced.[6] It was discovered by a dedicated survey that scanned regions where the light from the stars near the Galactic Center is obscured by dust clouds.[9] This suggests that large L5 trojans are as common as large L4 trojans, to within uncertainty,[9] further constraining models about their origins (see below).

It would have been possible for the New Horizons spacecraft to investigate L5 Neptune trojans discovered by 2014, when it passed through this region of space en route to Pluto.[5] Some of the patches where the light from the Galactic Center is obscured by dust clouds are along New Horizons's flight path, allowing detection of objects that the spacecraft could image.[9] 2011 HM102, the highest-inclination Neptune trojan known, was just bright enough for New Horizons to observe it in end-2013 at a distance of 1.2 AU.[10] However, New Horizons may not have had sufficient downlink bandwidth, so it was eventually decided to give precedence to the preparations for the Pluto flyby.[7][8]

Dynamics and origin[edit]

An animation showing the path of six of Neptune's L4 trojans in a rotating frame with a period equal to Neptune's orbital period. Neptune is held stationary. (Click to view.)

The orbits of Neptune trojans are highly stable; Neptune may have retained up to 50% of the original post-migration trojan population over the age of the Solar System.[2] Neptune's L5 can host stable trojans equally well as its L4.[11]

It is possible for Neptune trojans to librate up to 30° from their associated Lagrangian points with a 10,000-year period.[9]

The unexpected high-inclination trojans are the key to understanding the origin and evolution of the population as a whole.[11] The existence of high-inclination Neptune trojans points to 'freeze-in' capture or variations on this process,[2][9] or during a slow, smooth migration,[9] instead of in situ or collisional formation, as the origin of Neptune trojans.[2] The captured population already had to be dynamically excited for high-inclination trojans to exist.[9] Although resonant trans-Neptunian objects are thought to have been captured by sweeping resonances during planet migration, this process would cause the escape of Neptune trojans.[2] Irregular planetary migration would result in the depletion of the associated trojan reservoir.[9] The estimated equal number of large L5 and L4 trojans indicates that there was no gas drag during capture and points to a common capture mechanism for both L4 and L5 trojans.[9] The original population of trojans probably contained many objects on dynamically unstable orbits, and the current trojan population continues to contribute centaurs.[11] On the other hand, a trojan on a stable orbit need not be primordial.[11]

Although Neptune currently cannot efficiently capture trojans even for short periods,[2] capture of centaurs into unstable Neptune-trojan orbits is expected to occur to some extent. A simulation study concluded that at any given time, 2.8% of the centaurs in the scattered population within 34 AU would be Neptune co-orbitals; of these, it was predicted that 54% would be in horseshoe orbits, 10% would be quasi-satellites, and 36% would be trojans (evenly split between the L4 and L5 groups).[12]


The first four discovered Neptune trojans have similar colors.[2] They are modestly red, slightly redder than the gray Kuiper belt objects, but not as extremely red as the high-perihelion cold classical Kuiper belt objects.[2] This is similar to the colors of the blue lobe of the centaur color distribution, the Jupiter trojans, the irregular satellites of the gas giants, and possibly the comets, which is consistent with a similar origin of these populations of small Solar System bodies.[2]

The Neptune trojans are too faint to efficiently observe spectroscopically with current technology, which means that a large variety of surface compositions are compatible with the observed colors.[2]


The amount of high-inclination objects in such a small sample, in which relatively fewer high-inclination Neptune trojans are known due to observational biases,[2] implies that high-inclination trojans may significantly outnumber low-inclination trojans.[11] The ratio of high- to low-inclination Neptune trojans is estimated to be about 4:1.[2] Assuming albedos of 0.05, there are an expected 400+250
Neptune trojans with radii above 40 km in Neptune's L4.[2] This would indicate that large Neptune trojans are 5 to 20 times more abundant than Jupiter trojans, depending on their albedos.[2] There may be relatively fewer smaller Neptune trojans, which could be because these fragment more readily.[2] Large L5 trojans are estimated to be as common as large L4 trojans.[9]

2001 QR322 and 2008 LC18 display significant dynamical instability.[11] This means they could have been captured after planetary migration, but may as well be a long-term member that happens not to be perfectly dynamically stable.[11]

As of April 2015, thirteen Neptune trojans are known, of which nine orbit near the SunNeptune L4 Lagrangian point 60° ahead of Neptune,[1] three orbit near Neptune's L5 region 60° behind Neptune, and one orbits on the opposite side of Neptune (L3) but frequently changes location relative to Neptune to L4 and L5.[1] These are listed in the following table. It is constructed from the list of Neptune trojans maintained by the IAU Minor Planet Center[1] and with diameters from Sheppard and Trujillo's paper on 2008 LC18,[9] unless otherwise noted.

Name Provisional
Year of
2001 QR322 L4 29.404 31.011 1.3 8.2 ~140 2001 First Neptune trojan discovered
385571 Otrera 2004 UP10 L4 29.318 30.942 1.4 8.8 ~100 2004
2005 TN53 L4 28.092 32.162 25.0 9.0 ~80 2005 First high-inclination trojan discovered[2]
2005 TO74 L4 28.469 31.771 5.3 8.5 ~100 2005
2006 RJ103 L4 29.077 31.014 8.2 7.5 ~180 2006
2007 VL305 L4 28.130 32.028 28.1 8.0 ~160 2007
2008 LC18 L5 27.365 32.479 27.6 8.4 ~100 2008 First L5 trojan discovered[9]
2004 KV18 L5 24.553 35.851 13.6 8.9 56[13] 2011 Temporary Neptune trojan
2010 EN65 L3 21.109 40.613 19.2 6.9 ~200 Jumping trojan
2010 TS191 L4 28.608 31.253 6.6 8.1 ~120 2016 Announced on 2016/05/31
2010 TT191 L4 27.913 32.189 4.3 8.0 ~130 2016 Announced on 2016/05/31
2011 HM102 L5 27.662 32.455 29.4 8.1 90–180[10] 2012
2011 SO277 L4 29.622 30.503 9.6 7.7 ~140 2016 Announced on 2016/05/31
2011 WG157 L4 29.064 30.878 22.3 7.1 ~170 2016 Announced on 2016/05/31
2012 UV177 L4 27.806 32.259 20.8 9.2 ~80[14]
2013 KY18 L5 26.598 33.873 6.7 6.8 ~200 2016 Announced on 2016/05/31, stability uncertain
2014 QO441 L4 26.961 33.215 18.8 8.2 ~130[14] Most eccentric stable Neptune trojan[15]
2014 QP441 L4 28.022 32.110 19.4 9.1 ~90[14]

2005 TN74[16] and (309239) 2007 RW10[17] were thought to be Neptune trojans at the time of their discovery, but further observations have disconfirmed their membership. 2005 TN74 is currently thought to be in a 3:5 resonance with Neptune.[18] (309239) 2007 RW10 is currently following a quasi-satellite loop around Neptune.[19]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c d e "List Of Neptune Trojans". Minor Planet Center. Retrieved 2012-08-09. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Sheppard, Scott S.; Trujillo, Chadwick A. (June 2006). "A Thick Cloud of Neptune Trojans and Their Colors" (PDF). Science. 313 (5786): 511–514. Bibcode:2006Sci...313..511S. doi:10.1126/science.1127173. PMID 16778021. Retrieved 2008-02-26. 
  3. ^ Jewitt, David C.; Trujillo, Chadwick A.; Luu, Jane X. (2000). "Population and size distribution of small Jovian Trojan asteroids". The Astronomical Journal. 120 (2): 1140–7. arXiv:astro-ph/0004117free to read. Bibcode:2000AJ....120.1140J. doi:10.1086/301453. 
  4. ^ E. I. Chiang and Y. Lithwick Neptune Trojans as a Testbed for Planet Formation, The Astrophysical Journal, 628, pp. 520–532 Preprint
  5. ^ a b c David Powell (30 January 2007). "Neptune May Have Thousands of Escorts". Retrieved 2007-03-08. 
  6. ^ a b Scott S. Sheppard (2010-08-12). "Trojan Asteroid Found in Neptune's Trailing Gravitational Stability Zone". Carnegie Institution of Washington. Retrieved 2007-12-28. 
  7. ^ a b Stern, Alan (May 1, 2006). "Where Is the Centaur Rocket?". The PI's Perspective. Johns Hopkins APL. Archived from the original on March 9, 2011. Retrieved June 11, 2006. 
  8. ^ a b Parker, Alex (April 30, 2013). "2011 HM102: A new companion for Neptune". The Planetary Society. Retrieved October 7, 2014. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Sheppard, Scott S.; Trujillo, Chadwick A. (2010-08-12). "Detection of a Trailing (L5) Neptune Trojan". Science. AAAS. 329 (5997): 1304. Bibcode:2010Sci...329.1304S. doi:10.1126/science.1189666. PMID 20705814. Retrieved 2010-08-13. 
  10. ^ a b Parker, Alex (2012-10-09). "Citizen "Ice Hunters" help find a Neptune Trojan target for New Horizons". Planetary Society blogs. The Planetary Society. Retrieved 2012-10-09.  External link in |work= (help)
  11. ^ a b c d e f g Horner, J., Lykawka, P. S., Bannister, M. T., & Francis, P. 2008 LC18: a potentially unstable Neptune Trojan Accepted to appear in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
  12. ^ Alexandersen, M.; Gladman, B.; Greenstreet, S.; Kavelaars, J. J.; Petit, J. -M.; Gwyn, S. (2013). "A Uranian Trojan and the Frequency of Temporary Giant-Planet Co-Orbitals". Science. 341 (6149): 994–997. arXiv:1303.5774free to read. Bibcode:2013Sci...341..994A. doi:10.1126/science.1238072. PMID 23990557. 
  13. ^ The Tracking News
  14. ^ a b c Absolute magnitude converter
  15. ^
  16. ^ MPEC 2005-U97 : 2005 TN74, 2005 TO74 Minor Planet Center
  17. ^ "Distant EKOs, 55". Retrieved 2012-07-24. 
  18. ^ Orbit Fit and Astrometric record for 05TN74
  19. ^ de la Fuente Marcos; de la Fuente Marcos (2012). "(309239) 2007 RW10: a large temporary quasi-satellite of Neptune". Astronomy and Astrophysics Letters. 545: L9. arXiv:1209.1577free to read. Bibcode:2012A&A...545L...9D. doi:10.1051/0004-6361/201219931. 

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