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Friday, July 29, 2011

'Trojan' asteroid shares Earth's orbit


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PARIS — Earth is not alone in its orbit around the Sun - a small 'Trojan' asteroid sits in front of our planet and leads it, according to British science revue Nature, which published the discovery Thursday.
This diminutive asteroid has a diameter of just 300 metres but is called a Trojan because of its particular position in a stable spot either in front of a planet or behind it. Because the asteroid and planet are constantly on the same orbit, they can never collide.
Jupiter, Mars and Neptune also have Trojan asteroids accompanying them, as do two of Saturn's moons.
NASA scientists discovered the asteroid, which lies 80 million kilometres (50 million miles) from Earth, using its Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) telescope.
Astronomers have long thought that Earth did have some Trojans but their discovery has proved elusive because of the difficulty of seeing them in daylight.
"WISE was a game-changer, giving us a point of view difficult to have at Earth's surface", said Martin Connors, a professor at Canada's Athabasca University and the lead author on the Nature paper on the discovery.


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