Feb 09, 2022 I Paul Seaburn

Pair of Baby Asteroids Only 300 Years Old Discovered

While most scientists are looking for asteroids and meteorites billions of year old to help unlock clues to the birth of the universe, the solar system and Earth, a few are searching instead for an asteroid nursery filled with baby rocks. That side got a big boost this week with the record-setting discovery of two so young, they may need to be burped.

“It’s very exciting to find such a young asteroid pair that was formed only about 300 years ago, which was like this morning—not even yesterday—in astronomical timescales.”

In a Lowell Observatory press release announcing the discovery of the near-Earth asteroid pair 2019 PR2 and 2019 QR6, Petr Fatka of the Astronomical Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences explains how they were discovered and why – besides their young age – these two baby space rocks are so unusual. Using the Pan-STARRS1 survey telescope in Hawaii and the Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona, the near earth objects (NEA) were discovered separately at about the same time in 2019 – with 2019 PR2 measuring about one-half mile in diameter and 2019 QR6 one-quarter mile wide. Found in the Main Asteroid Best between Jupiter and Mars, they are about one million km (620,000 miles) apart – almost Siamese twins in astronomy terms. In fact, backwards analysis of the pair show they indeed broke off of the same parent comet a mere instant ago.

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Asteroid Belt

“Based on multiple modeling techniques and additional observations—including recovery of previously unnoticed detections made with the Catalina Sky Survey 14 years before the discovery—the team determined that the pair separated only 300 years ago, making it the youngest known pair of asteroid pairs.”

Youngest by at least a factor of ten, according to the study published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. Their surface composition confirms they broke off of the same parent in a process called rotational fission – spinning comets lose pieces that can no longer be held together by gravity. The parent comet pushes the pieces away with its jets, which explains how the two babies traveled so far in just 300 years. That can be confirmed the next time the two young rocks are in the range of the James Webb Space Telescope in 2033. The next view will hopefully explain another mystery of 2019 PR2 and 2019 QR6.

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Are you our Mama?

“In the present day, the bodies don’t display any signs of cometary activity. So it remains a mystery how these objects could have gone from a single parent body, to individually active objects, to the inactive pair we see today in just 300 years.”

While their parent is a comet, 2019 PR2 and 2019 QR6 are a pair of inactive asteroid children. Does this mean they’re actually asteroid teenagers? Or did they come from a donor parent?

Are there DNA tests for asteroids?

Paul Seaburn

Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.

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