Asteroids might not be what they appear to be. New research suggests some may be coated in material from other objects, providing a form of camouflage that hides their true appearance. The findings were published in the Astronomical Journal.
Led by the Astrophysics Laboratory of Marseilles (LAM), scientists used NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) aircraft to observe the dwarf planet Ceres in the asteroid belt, sometimes also referred to as a large asteroid.
It had been thought that the surface of Ceres was rich in carbon, something common in class C asteroids that Ceres was thought to belong to. Instead, they found a large amount of material that seems to have come from other asteroids, rocky silicates like pyroxene dust, mixed in with wet clays, carbonates, and water ice.
“This study resolves a long-time question about whether asteroid surface material accurately reflects the intrinsic composition of the asteroid,” said Pierre Vernazza, a research scientist at the LAM, in a statement. “Our results show that by extending observations to the mid-infrared, the asteroid’s underlying composition remains identifiable despite contamination by as much as 20 percent of material from elsewhere.”
The study suggests that this dust may have been delivered from interplanetary dust particles (IDPs), created when asteroids collide. And it means Ceres may not have formed in its current position, something that has been hinted at before.
In their paper, the researchers wrote that this finding “possibly supports recent results obtained by the Dawn mission [currently in orbit around Ceres] that Ceres may have formed in the very outer Solar System.”
And this may not just be limited to Ceres. It’s thought that other worlds, like Pluto’s moon Charon and Saturn’s moon Iapetus, might also have camouflage coverings that hide their true nature.