Exiled asteroid discovered in outer reaches of solar system

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When astronomers found a carbon-covered asteroid floating among icy bodies far away in our solar system, they thought it had to be a mistake.

An artistic representation of the exiled asteroid 2004 EW95, whose inner solar system origins confirm theories about the system's early days.

Dubbed Kuiper Belt Object 2004 EW95, the solitary traveller probably formed in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter before journeying billions of miles to its new home.

The outward migration of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune is a critical element to our current solar system formation theory.

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This rocky witness of our solar system's primordial days offers unique evidence of that distant period.

Some scientific models already suggested that some carbonaceous asteroids could have been expelled to the Kuiper belt, but until now no one had been able to detect it reliably. 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.

The asteroid is nearly 200 miles wide and is about 2.5 billion miles from Earth, making it tricky to examine.

"It's like observing a giant mountain of coal against the pitch black canvas of the night sky", said Professor Thomas Puzia from the Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile, who co-authored the study. The Kuiper Belt starts past the orbit of Neptune, roughly 30 astronomical units from sunlight, roughly 30 times the distance between sunlight and Earth, and might stretch nearly as far too interstellar space.

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"Not only is 2004 EW95 moving, it's also very faint", Seccull added. Further analysis revealed that the object did not share the same icy past as other rocks drifting nearby. But they started their outwards migration not long after the solar system was formed, and as they did so, they created all sorts of chaos.

The dramatic distance and the asteroid's relatively small size make it an extremely hard target to track, and the fact that it features carbon molecules, which makes it appear darker in color, doesn't make it any easier. So you can appreciate how weird it is that we just found an asteroid full of carbon inside the Kuiper Belt, the first known asteroid of its kind.

The 300km-long asteroid was discovered by astronomer Dr Wesley Fraser, of Queen's University Belfast, in Northern Ireland. It has 15 Member States: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, along with the host state of Chile and with Australia as a strategic partner. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope and its world-leading Very Large Telescope Interferometer as well as two survey telescopes, VISTA working in the infrared and the visible-light VLT Survey Telescope.

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