Washington: UBC astronomers have discovered the first Trojan asteroid sharing the orbit of Uranus.
It is believed 2011 QF99 is part of a larger-than-expected population of transient objects temporarily trapped by the gravitational pull of the Solar System`s giant planets.
Trojans are asteroids that share the orbit of a planet, occupying stable positions known as Lagrangian points.
Astronomers considered their presence at Uranus unlikely because the gravitational pull of larger neighbouring planets would destabilize and expel any Uranian Trojans over the age of the Solar System.
To determine how the 60 kilometre-wide ball of rock and ice ended up sharing an orbit with Uranus the astronomers created a simulation of the Solar System and its co-orbital objects, including Trojans.
"Surprisingly, our model predicts that at any given time three per cent of scattered objects between Jupiter and Neptune should be co-orbitals of Uranus or Neptune," Mike Alexandersen, lead author of the study said.
This percentage had never before been computed, and is much higher than previous estimates.
Several temporary Trojans and co-orbitals have been discovered in the Solar System during the past decade.
QF99 is one of those temporary objects, only recently (within the last few hundred thousand years) ensnared by Uranus and set to escape the planet`s gravitational pull in about a million years.
The findings are published in the journal Science.