A team of scientists led by Martin Conner from Canada's Athabasca University have finally spotted what has been eluding scientists for centuries - Earth's very own 'Trojan' asteroid - One that share its orbit around the sun, but travels at a stable point ahead or behind, so that there is never any danger of colliding with it.
'Trojan' asteroids are not a new discovery - The first ones were found traveling in Jupiter's orbit in 1772 - However, the ones orbiting Earth have been elusive, until this recent discovery.
Earth's Space rock dubbed 2010 TK7 is about 1,000 feet in diameter and lies at a distance of 50 million miles. While it has been orbiting ahead of the Earth for over 10,000 years, it has been difficult to see because of its proximity to the sun, which made it visible for short periods of time - Just before sunrise or shortly after sunset.
In fact, it is only thanks to 15 years of painstaking research by Martin Conners and his team, that it was even discovered. Convinced that Earth has one or more Trojan asteroid, the researchers combed through years of data collected by NASA's WISE (wide field infrared survey explorer) telescope, which orbits the earth and has the capability to detect asteroids, thanks to the infrared radiation they generate from the heat of the sun.
Their hard work resulted in two Trojan-like asteroid candidates - One of which was confirmed as the Earth Trojan by observing six days of orbit data from the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii.
Trojan asteroids are important to scientists because they may hold important clues about the earth formation. That's because unlike meteorites which can originate from other places, Trojans are loyal long-term companions to their planet and therefore more likely to originate near them.
Unfortunately, those clues will not come 2010 TK7, which because of its unusual orbit track is not a good candidate to visit. But now that at least one has been found, there is renewed hope of finding several more - After all, Jupiter has over 5,000 of them!
Resources:examiner.com, newjerseynewsroom.com, dailymail.co.uk