Mar 2, 2021 - Science

A strange comet not far from Jupiter

The comet as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope. Photo: NASA/ESA/ B. Bolin

The comet as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope. Photo: NASA/ESA/ B. Bolin

For the first time, scientists have found a comet near a population of asteroids orbiting the Sun alongside Jupiter.

Why it matters: It's possible scientists have found a "pit stop" that other comets may take on their way to the inner solar system from farther afield, according to NASA.

The big picture: The comet — named P/2019 LD2 — was discovered not far from a population of asteroids near Jupiter known as Trojans, the new study detailing the finding in the Astronomical Journal says.

  • The comet may have originally been kicked out of the Kuiper belt beyond Neptune before orbiting the Sun near the outer, gaseous planets.
  • About two years ago, the comet flew near Jupiter, which seems to have pushed the object toward the Trojans, where it was found today.
  • "The cool thing is that you're actually catching Jupiter flinging this object around and changing its orbital behavior and bringing it into the inner system," Carey Lisse, one of the authors of the study said in a statement. "Jupiter controls what's going on with comets once they get into the inner system by altering their orbits."

What's next: Scientists think the comet is probably due to leave Jupiter behind in about two years, according to computer simulations.

  • The comet is expected to interact with Jupiter again and then continue toward the inner solar system.
  • "Simulations show that in about 500,000 years, there's a 90% probability that this object will be ejected from the solar system and become an interstellar comet," Lisse said.
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