IfA: ATLAS Telescope Discovers First-of-Its-Kind Asteroid

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IfA: ATLAS Telescope Discovers First-of-Its-Kind Asteroid

Post by bystander » Sat May 23, 2020 9:15 pm

ATLAS Telescope Discovers First-of-Its-Kind Asteroid
Institute for Astronomy | University of Hawaii | 2020 May 21
Image of asteroid 2019 LD2 taken on 2019 June 11 using the Las Cumbres
Observatory Global Telescope (LCOGT) Network's 1.0-meter telescope at
Cerro Tololo, Chile. Credit: JD Armstrong/IfA/LCOGT
We often think of asteroids and comets as distinct types of small bodies, but astronomers have discovered an increasing number of "crossovers." These objects initially appear to be asteroids, and later develop activity, such as tails, that are typical of comets.

Now, the University of Hawaiʻi's Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS) has discovered the first known Jupiter Trojan asteroid to have sprouted a comet-like tail. ATLAS is a NASA-funded project using wide-field telescopes to rapidly scan the sky for asteroids that might pose an impact threat to Earth. But by searching most of the sky every two nights, ATLAS often finds other kinds of objects - objects that aren't dangerous, but are very interesting.

Early in June 2019, ATLAS reported what seemed to be a faint asteroid near the orbit of Jupiter. The Minor Planet Center designated the new discovery as 2019 LD2. Inspection of ATLAS images taken on June 10 by collaborators Alan Fitzsimmons and David Young at Queen's University Belfast revealed its probable cometary nature. Follow-up observations by the University of Hawaiʻi's J.D. Armstrong and his student Sidney Moss on June 11 and 13 using the Las Cumbres Observatory (LCO) global telescope network confirmed the cometary nature of this body.

Later, in July 2019, new ATLAS images caught 2019 LD2 again - now truly looking like a comet, with a faint tail made of dust or gas. The asteroid passed behind the Sun and was not observable from the Earth in late 2019 and early 2020, but upon its reappearance in the night sky in April of 2020, routine ATLAS observations confirmed that it still looks like a comet. These observations showed that 2019 LD2 has probably been continuously active for almost a year.

While ATLAS has discovered more than 40 comets, what makes this object extraordinary is its orbit. The early indication that it was an asteroid near Jupiter's orbit have now been confirmed through precise measurements from many different observatories. In fact, 2019 LD2 is a special kind of asteroid called a Jupiter Trojan - and no object of this type has ever before been seen to spew out dust and gas like a comet. ...
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