Scientists have discovered an asteroid that flies around the sun in the same orbit as a planet, but in the opposite direction.
Asteroid 2015 BZ509 mirrors Jupiter’s orbit and is the first asteroid in the solar system known to follow a so-called “retrograde” path.
But despite it’s seemingly perilous loop, the giant ball of rock has so far managed to avoid smashing into the gas giant
At its closest approach, the asteroid comes within 176 million kilometres of Jupiter, tweaking the asteroid’s orbit, the study found.
During each orbit, the asteroid passes Jupiter twice, once between the sun and the planet and once on the planet’s far side.
Paul Wiegert at the University of Western Ontario and his colleagues found that these close calls cause minor tugs that ensures it steers clear of the planet.
In a blog, Wiegert explains why other retrograde asteroids tend to stay away from the planets: “If a clown car is going to survive going the wrong way around the track, best to stay away from the big trucks.”
“It’s exciting that, of all the possible and unusual niches for asteroids to live in in our solar system, they all seem to be occupied,” Wiegert told New Scientist. “They’re not just theoretically possible, but they’re real objects.”