In a new paper published in the journal The Astrophysical Journal Letters, a team of global scientists discovered that the Kuiper Belt object 2004 EW95 is a carbon-rich asteroid. This finding is a critical step towards better understanding our early solar system, he added.
The discovery of 2004 EW95, made by an worldwide team of astronomers using ESO's Very Large Telescope, helps strengthen theories about the dynamical evolution of the Solar System that describes how the planets ended up where we see them today.
There's a good chance that 2004 EW95 is extremely old, having first been formed in the asteroid belt and then moving to the Kuiper belt all within the earliest days of our solar system's formation. This is odd because the asteroid is thought to have originated in the asteroid belt in between Mars and Jupiter.
"It looked enough of a weirdo for us to take a closer look", Dr Tom Seccull, lead author of the study said. Multiple models suggest that after these gas giants formed, they began rampaging away from the Sun until they hit their current orbital locations, causing carbon-rich rocky pieces in the inner solar system to scatter about. Despite its size - 2004 EW95 is roughly 300 kilometres across - its discovery is quite a find because not only did the team have to search through an untold number of objects to locate it, but as c-types contain a large amount of carbon, they have a very low albedo, meaning they do not reflect much light. Scientists believe it to be evidence of how our solar system behaved in its early time.
After being ejected from their places of origin they ended up in the outer solar system. But although "there have been previous reports of other "atypical" Kuiper Belt Object spectra" - indicating the objects were made of substances not normally found in the region - none were confirmed to the level of quality of 2004 EW95, Olivier Hainaut, an ESO astronomer who was not part of the team, said in the statement. Though the object is 300 kilometres across, it is now a colossal four billion kilometres from Earth, making gathering data from its dark, carbon-rich surface a demanding scientific challenge.
Dubbed 2004 EW95, the carbon-rich object came to be during the chaotic formation of our stellar neighborhood.
While there's plenty of asteroids on the edge of our solar system - there is an entire Kuiper Belt beyond Neptune, after all - they're distinctly different in their composition from anything in the main asteroid belt. It was formed in the inner Solar System. As astronomer Thomas Puccia of the Catholic University of Chile said, "it's like watching a giant coal mountain with a dark night sky background".
Despite ever-advancing technology, many details of our solar system's early years are still shrouded in mystery.