Trojan (celestial body)

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The trojan points are those labelled L4 and L5, highlighted in red, on the orbital path of the secondary object (blue), around the primary object (yellow).

In astronomy, a trojan is a minor planet or moon that shares the orbit of a planet or larger moon, wherein the trojan remains in the same, stable position relative to the larger object. In particular, a trojan remains near one of the two trojan points of stability – designated L4 and L5 – which lie approximately 60° ahead of and behind the larger body, respectively. Trojan points make up two of five types of Lagrangian points, and a trojan is a type of Lagrangian object.

They are one type of co-orbital object. In this arrangement, the massive star and the smaller planet orbit about their common barycenter. A much smaller mass located at one of the Lagrangian points is subject to a combined gravitational force that acts through this barycenter. Hence the object can orbit around the barycenter with the same orbital period as the planet, and the arrangement can remain stable over time.[1]

The Jupiter trojans account for most known trojans in the Solar System. They are divided into the Greek camp (L4) in front of and the Trojan camp (L5) trailing behind Jupiter in their orbit. More than 7,000 have been found so far and more than a million Jupiter trojans larger than one kilometer are thought to exist, whereas only a few Mars trojans (9) and Neptune trojans (22) have been found to date. Numerical orbital dynamics stability simulations indicate that Saturn and Uranus probably do not have any primordial trojans.[2] The discovery of the first Earth trojan, 2010 TK7, was announced by NASA in 2011.[3]

Unlike trojan minor planets that share the orbit with a planet, a trojan moon is a moon orbiting near the trojan point of another, larger moon. All known trojan moons are part of the Saturn system. Telesto and Calypso are trojans of Tethys, and Helene and Polydeuces of Dione. There is also a theoretical concept of a trojan planet, a planet that orbits at the trojan point of another, larger planet. Such a pair of co-orbital exoplanets was already thought to exist in another star system, but this claim was later retracted.[4]

Trojan minor planets[edit]

The Jupiter trojans in front of and behind Jupiter along its orbital path, the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and the Hilda asteroids.
  Jupiter trojans   Asteroid belt   Hilda asteroids

In 1772, the Italian–French mathematician and astronomer Joseph-Louis Lagrange obtained two constant-pattern solutions (collinear and equilateral) of the general three-body problem.[5] In the restricted three-body problem, with one mass negligible (which Lagrange did not consider), the five possible positions of that mass are now termed Lagrangian points.

The term "trojan" originally referred to the "trojan asteroids" (jovian trojans) that orbit close to the Lagrangian points of Jupiter. These have long been named for figures from the Trojan War of Greek mythology. By convention, the asteroids orbiting near the L4 point of Jupiter are named for the characters from the Greek side of the war, whereas those orbiting near the L5 of Jupiter are from the Trojan side. There are two exceptions, which were named before the convention was put in place, the Greek 617 Patroclus and the Trojan 624 Hektor, which were assigned to the wrong sides.[6]

Astronomers estimate that the jovian trojans are about as numerous as the asteroids of the asteroid belt.[7]

Later on, objects were found orbiting near the Lagrangian points of Neptune, Mars, Earth,[8] Uranus, and Venus. Minor planets at the Lagrangian points of planets other than Jupiter may be called Lagrangian minor planets.[9]


Whether or not a system of star, planet, and trojan is stable depends on how large the perturbations are to which it is subject. If, for example, the planet is the mass of Earth, and there is also a Jupiter-mass object orbiting that star, the trojan's orbit would be much less stable than if the second planet had the mass of Pluto.

As a rule of thumb, the system is likely to be long-lived if m1 > 100m2 > 10,000m3 (in which m1, m2, and m3 are the masses of the star, planet, and trojan).

More formally, in a three-body system with circular orbits, the stability condition is 27(m1m2 + m2m3 + m3m1) < (m1 + m2 + m3)2. So the trojan being a mote of dust, m3→0, imposes a lower bound on m1/m2 of 25+√621/2 ≈ 24.9599. And if the star were hyper-massive, m1→+∞, then under Newtonian gravity, the system is stable whatever the planet and trojan masses. And if m1/m2 = m2/m3, then both must exceed 13+√168 ≈ 25.9615. But all this assumes a three-body system: once other bodies are introduced, even if distant and small, stability of the system requires larger ratios.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Robutel, Philippe; Souchay, Jean (2010), "An introduction to the dynamics of trojan asteroids", in Dvorak, Rudolf; Souchay, Jean, Dynamics of Small Solar System Bodies and Exoplanets, Lecture Notes in Physics, 790, Springer, p. 197, ISBN 3-642-04457-3
  2. ^ 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. ^ "NASA's WISE Mission Finds First Trojan Asteroid Sharing Earth's Orbit". NASA. 27 July 2011.
  4. ^ "Two planets found sharing one orbit". New Scientist. 24 February 2011.
  5. ^ Joseph-Louis Lagrange (1772). "Essai sur le Problème des Trois Corps" [Essay on the Three-Body Problem] (PDF) (in French).
  6. ^ Wright, Alison (August 1, 2011). "Planetary science: The Trojan is out there". Nature Physics. 7 (8): 592. Bibcode:2011NatPh...7..592W. doi:10.1038/nphys2061. Retrieved 2011-08-12.
  7. ^ Yoshida, Fumi; Nakamura, Tsuko (2005). "L4". The Astronomical Journal. 130 (6): 2900–11. Bibcode:2005AJ....130.2900Y. doi:10.1086/497571.
  8. ^ Connors, Martin; Wiegert, Paul; Veillet, Christian (27 July 2011). "Earth's Trojan asteroid". Nature. 475 (7357): 481–483. Bibcode:2011Natur.475..481C. doi:10.1038/nature10233. PMID 21796207. Retrieved 2011-07-27.
  9. ^ Whiteley, Robert J.; Tholen, David J. (November 1998). "A CCD Search for Lagrangian Asteroids of the Earth–Sun System". Icarus. 136 (1): 154–167. Bibcode:1998Icar..136..154W. doi:10.1006/icar.1998.5995.
  10. ^ "List Of Martian Trojans". Minor Planet Center. Retrieved 3 July 2015.
  11. ^ de la Fuente Marcos, C.; de la Fuente Marcos, R. (15 May 2013). "Three new stable L5 Mars Trojans". Letters. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. 432 (1): 31–35. arXiv:1303.0124. Bibcode:2013MNRAS.432L..31D. doi:10.1093/mnrasl/slt028.
  12. ^ "List of Neptune Trojans". Minor Planet Center. Retrieved 2017-03-11.
  13. ^ Chiang, Eugene I.; Lithwick, Yoram (20 July 2005). "Neptune Trojans as a Testbed for Planet Formation". The Astrophysical Journal. 628 (1): 520–532. arXiv:astro-ph/0502276. Bibcode:2005ApJ...628..520C. doi:10.1086/430825.
  14. ^ Powell, David (30 January 2007). "Neptune May Have Thousands of Escorts". Retrieved 2007-03-08.
  15. ^ Choi, Charles Q. (27 July 2011). "First Asteroid Companion of Earth Discovered at Last". Retrieved 2011-07-27.
  16. ^ de la Fuente Marcos, Carlos; de la Fuente Marcos, Raúl (21 May 2017). "Asteroid 2014 YX49: a large transient Trojan of Uranus". Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. 467 (2): 1561–1568. arXiv:1701.05541. Bibcode:2017MNRAS.467.1561D. doi:10.1093/mnras/stx197.
  17. ^ Christou, Apostolos A.; Wiegert, Paul (January 2012). "A population of main belt asteroids co-orbiting with Ceres and Vesta" (PDF). Icarus. 217 (1): 27–42. arXiv:1110.4810. Bibcode:2012Icar..217...27C. doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2011.10.016.