It is believed that the gas giants of our solar system caused concern in their childhood days. As they left their tight orbits and began their emigration, their powerful voyages caused small, stony bodies in the inner solar system to be thrown out of their homes. Some made their way to the Kuiper belt – a thick and broad ring of comets, asteroids and other small objects surrounding the outer solar system. However, due to the billions of kilometers that lie between the Earth and the Kuiper Belt, it has not been easy to identify an Inner Solar System asteroid in our icy fringes. But now an international team of astronomers has discovered the Kuiper Belt Object 2004 EW95 – a carbon-rich asteroid that supports the destructive tendencies of our gas giants.
The exodus of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune is a crucial element of our current theory of solar system formation. Several models suggest that these gas giants move away from the sun after their formation until they reach their current orbital positions, thereby dissipating carbon-rich boulders in the inner solar system. Most of these asteroids were ejected towards the sun, where other carbon-rich objects are located, but some were sent in the opposite direction to the outer edge of our solar system. Since there are no high-carbon objects in the Kuiper Belt ̵
Kuiper Belt Object discovered EW95 in 2004 with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, astronomer and research team Wesley Fraser, while making routine observations of the Kuiper Belt. The strong spectral lines emanating from this unusual asteroid have made it different from its peers, which have relatively weak spectra.
"The reflection spectrum of 2004 EW95 was significantly different from the other observed objects of the outer solar system," said senior researcher Tom Seccull of Queen's University Belfast in a press release. "It looked enough for us to take a closer look."
Since the EW95 of the Kuiper Belt 2004 has a strong spectrum, its light can be broken down into different wavelengths so that the researchers can determine their chemical composition. To identify the chemical composition of such a remote object, the team used the X-Shooter and FORS2 spectrographs on the European Space Agency's (ESO) Very Large Telescope. But these mighty instruments did not change the fact that the asteroid, which traverses 300 kilometers, is 2.5 billion miles (4 billion kilometers) from Earth. In addition, its carbon molecules cause it to appear dark in color.
"It's like a huge coal mine on the pitch-black canvas of the night sky," said Thomas Puzia, astronomer at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and co-author of the research paper published in The Astrophysical Journal Letter .
But the research team was able to overcome the obstacles and identify clear signatures of carbon, iron oxides and phyllosilicates (silicate mineral layers), which are all elements of the inner solar system that have never been identified as a Kuiper belt object. Due to the chemical breakdown, the researchers concluded that the Kuiper Belt Object 2004 EW95 was probably formed in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and has gone the long way along our gas giants.
"While there were earlier reports of other 'atypical' Kuiper-belt-object spectra, none could be confirmed," said ESO astronomer Olivier Hainaut. "The discovery of a carbonaceous asteroid in the Kuiper belt is a key verification of one of the fundamental predictions of dynamic models of the early solar system."
Despite the ever-advancing technology, many details of the early years of our solar system are still shrouded in mystery. But by continually uncovering clues that illuminate our chaotic history, our education and development may lose their mysterious personalities.