Well, that's something boffins haven't seen before: A strange alien streaks around Jupiter

We know this sounds like a tall tail but...


Pic Astronomers scanning the sky for potentially hazardous space rocks have discovered a first – a presumed trojan asteroid around Jupiter that is looking increasingly like a comet.

The cosmic enigma was spotted by the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS), which employs two telescopes in Hawaii to snap wide-field images. If the conditions are favorable, the system is able to cover the whole observable sky every two nights. ATLAS looks out for near-Earth objects that could crash into our planet, and warns of an impact weeks to a few days in advance.

Now, after more than five years of observations, the system has clocked something it’s never seen before: what appears to be a Jupiter trojan asteroid that has suddenly spawned a tail of dust and gas, something that’s only seen in comets. Scientists believe it has stayed that way for about a year. A trojan in this case is a rock that librates around one of the gas giant's two stable Lagrange points.

The weird object, known as 2019 LD2, was spotted in June: images taken by ATLAS that month were analyzed by Alan Fitzsimmons and David Young, both of the Astrophysics Research Center at the Queen’s University Belfast, who noticed 2019 LD2’s comet-like behavior.

Days later, James Armstrong and Sidney Moss, of the University of Hawaii, which operates ATLAS, performed followup observations using the Las Cumbres Observatory's global network, and confirmed the other duo's suspicions. The dual sightings confirmed something unusual was up.

Ch-ch-changes

It’s not the first time asteroids have crossed over to comets, though it’s the first time Earth's scientists have seen it occurring for a space rock with such a wide orbit.

Although our own home world has its own trojan asteroids, Jupiter attracts hundreds of thousands due to its larger gravitational field.

Artist Concept of Jovian Trojans (credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

There's a cling-on off the starboard bow... Small moon spotted orbiting asteroid NASA's Lucy will visit in 2027

READ MORE

Crucially, the tail of gas could reveal the rock's inner secrets.

“We have believed for decades that trojan asteroids should have large amounts of ice beneath their surfaces, but never had any evidence until now. ATLAS has shown that the predictions of their icy nature may well be correct," said Fitzsimmons.

2019 LD2 is in the group orbiting at Lagrange point L4, lying 60° ahead of Jupiter in its orbit. Scientists aren’t sure why this particular rock among all the others in the large flock of Jupiter trojans has started vaporizing to form a tail as it streaks across the sky.

Some at the University of Hawaii believe it’s possible 2019 LD2 is a recent addition to Jupiter's trojan family, and it was captured from a more distant orbit where temperatures were low enough for ice to survive on its surface and that it’s only vaporizing now that it's closer to the Sun. Or perhaps it suffered a landslide or crashed into another asteroid, which scraped its top protective layer off and now its icy core is exposed to the Sun, causing it to vaporize.

Larry Denneau, co-principal investigator at ATLAS, said: "Even though the ATLAS system is designed to search for dangerous asteroids, ATLAS sees other rare phenomena in our solar system and beyond while scanning the sky. It's a real bonus for ATLAS to make these kinds of discoveries." ®

Broader topics


Other stories you might like

  • Cheers ransomware hits VMware ESXi systems
    Now we can say extortionware has jumped the shark

    Another ransomware strain is targeting VMware ESXi servers, which have been the focus of extortionists and other miscreants in recent months.

    ESXi, a bare-metal hypervisor used by a broad range of organizations throughout the world, has become the target of such ransomware families as LockBit, Hive, and RansomEXX. The ubiquitous use of the technology, and the size of some companies that use it has made it an efficient way for crooks to infect large numbers of virtualized systems and connected devices and equipment, according to researchers with Trend Micro.

    "ESXi is widely used in enterprise settings for server virtualization," Trend Micro noted in a write-up this week. "It is therefore a popular target for ransomware attacks … Compromising ESXi servers has been a scheme used by some notorious cybercriminal groups because it is a means to swiftly spread the ransomware to many devices."

    Continue reading
  • Twitter founder Dorsey beats hasty retweet from the board
    As shareholders sue the social network amid Elon Musk's takeover scramble

    Twitter has officially entered the post-Dorsey age: its founder and two-time CEO's board term expired Wednesday, marking the first time the social media company hasn't had him around in some capacity.

    Jack Dorsey announced his resignation as Twitter chief exec in November 2021, and passed the baton to Parag Agrawal while remaining on the board. Now that board term has ended, and Dorsey has stepped down as expected. Agrawal has taken Dorsey's board seat; Salesforce co-CEO Bret Taylor has assumed the role of Twitter's board chair. 

    In his resignation announcement, Dorsey – who co-founded and is CEO of Block (formerly Square) – said having founders leading the companies they created can be severely limiting for an organization and can serve as a single point of failure. "I believe it's critical a company can stand on its own, free of its founder's influence or direction," Dorsey said. He didn't respond to a request for further comment today. 

    Continue reading
  • Snowflake stock drops as some top customers cut usage
    You might say its valuation is melting away

    IPO darling Snowflake's share price took a beating in an already bearish market for tech stocks after filing weaker than expected financial guidance amid a slowdown in orders from some of its largest customers.

    For its first quarter of fiscal 2023, ended April 30, Snowflake's revenue grew 85 percent year-on-year to $422.4 million. The company made an operating loss of $188.8 million, albeit down from $205.6 million a year ago.

    Although surpassing revenue expectations, the cloud-based data warehousing business saw its valuation tumble 16 percent in extended trading on Wednesday. Its stock price dived from $133 apiece to $117 in after-hours trading, and today is cruising back at $127. That stumble arrived amid a general tech stock sell-off some observers said was overdue.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022