Letter | Published:

A retrograde co-orbital asteroid of Jupiter

Nature volume 543, pages 687689 (30 March 2017) | Download Citation

Abstract

Recent theoretical work in celestial mechanics has revealed that an asteroid may orbit stably in the same region as a planet, despite revolving around the Sun in the sense opposite to that of the planet itself1,2,3,4,5. Asteroid 2015 BZ509 was discovered6 in 2015, but with too much uncertainty in its measured orbit to establish whether it was such a retrograde co-orbital body. Here we report observations and analysis that demonstrates that asteroid 2015 BZ509 is indeed a retrograde co-orbital asteroid of the planet Jupiter. We find that 2015 BZ509 has long-term stability, having been in its current, resonant state for around a million years. This is long enough to preclude precise calculation of the time or mechanism of its injection to its present state, but it may be a Halley-family comet that entered the resonance through an interaction with Saturn. Retrograde co-orbital asteroids of Jupiter and other planets may be more common than previously expected.

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Acknowledgements

We acknowledge the use of the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT). The LBT is an international collaboration among institutions in the USA, Italy and Germany. LBT Corporation partners are: The University of Arizona on behalf of the Arizona Board of Regents; Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica, Italy; LBT Beteiligungsgesellschaft, Germany, representing the Max-Planck Society, The Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam, and Heidelberg University; The Ohio State University, and The Research Corporation, on behalf of The University of Notre Dame, University of Minnesota and University of Virginia. This work made use of data and/or services provided by the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center. This work was supported in part by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council (NSERC) of Canada.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Department of Physics and Astronomy, The University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario N6A 3K7, Canada

    • Paul Wiegert
    •  & Martin Connors
  2. Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration (CPSX), London, Ontario N6A 3K7, Canada

    • Paul Wiegert
    •  & Martin Connors
  3. Athabasca University Observatories, Athabasca, Alberta T9S 3A3, Canada

    • Martin Connors
  4. Institute for Space-Earth Environmental Research, University of Nagoya, Nagoya 464-8601, Japan

    • Martin Connors
  5. Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta T2N 1N4, Canada

    • Martin Connors
  6. Large Binocular Telescope Observatory, Tucson, Arizona 85721, USA

    • Christian Veillet

Authors

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Contributions

P.W. and M.C. contributed numerical simulation and orbital analysis. C.V. contributed telescopic observations, and initial orbit determination and uncertainty analysis. All authors contributed equally to this work.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Paul Wiegert.

Reviewer Information Nature thanks D. Yeomans and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Publisher's note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Videos

  1. 1.

    An animation of the motion of asteroid 2015 BZ509

    The sizes of Jupiter and the asteroid are exaggerated for clarity but the relative motion around the Sun is correct. The dotted path indicates the trajectory of the asteroid as seen in a frame which co-rotates with the planet (e.g. as in Figure 1).

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https://doi.org/10.1038/nature22029

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