Asteroid 2004 EW95 Exiled To Cold Outer Region Of Solar System

Asteroid 2004 EW95
Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

The edge of our solar system is framed by a huge cloud of tiny, icy bodies. Scientists studying this outer ring always thought that there were some bodies that were different than the others, although they couldn’t prove it. They posed a theory that as the planets wandered around during the early days of the solar system, they threw away rocky asteroids to the dark and cold neighborhood of the ring, and one of those asteroids is asteroid 2004 EW95.

According to a paper in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, new data suggests that the asteroid discovered in 2004 is indeed a rocky asteroid, similar to those that can be found in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

“It looks fairly convincing to me,” says Linda French, an astronomer at Illinois Wesleyan University who wasn’t affiliated with the new study.

The study also sheds light on the movements of celestial objects during the early days of the solar system, suggesting that Jupiter and Saturn had a chaotic past in which they wandered through the solar system, and that their vast masses disturbed their surroundings.

“Basically, all hell broke loose in the solar system and all the small bodies got tossed around,” French added.

Asteroid 2004 EW95 was quite different from the other small icy bodies that are floating in the neighborhood of the Kuiper Belt, the same region where Pluto is found.

“It looked enough of a weirdo for us to take a closer look,” first author Tom Seccull, a graduate student in physics at Queen’s University Belfast in the U.K., said in a statement.

The light that reflects off the asteroid 2004 EW95 helped scientists determine its chemical composition, distinguishing it as a carbonaceous asteroid, like the other carbon-rich asteroids found in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

“It’s really nice to see that there’s a degree of symmetry,” says Neyda Abreu, a geoscientist at Penn State DuBois who wasn’t involved with the new research. “That is truly fascinating.”

Abreu also pointed out that the presence of a compound known as phyllosilicates on the asteroid 2004 EW95 is quite interesting, as this kind of compound doesn’t appear unless there’s water present, meaning that the asteroid could have an organic composition as well as water that it carried out to the edge of the solar system.

That being said, the weak gravity that is accompanying the asteroid could make it easily get kicked out toward other solar systems. Abreu thinks that it’s quite exciting that there is a possibility for that. That means that asteroids that get exiled toward other solar systems could trade the necessary ingredients for life.

Nevertheless, it’s too early to say precisely how those asteroids that have gotten misplaced could be located in the Kuiper Belt and how many there are of them. However, given the chemical composition of asteroid 2004 EW95 as opposed to other icy bodies that are in the belt, there must be at least some.