Astronomy Science Student Corner

Thousands of asteroids that whiz past Earth are from ancient, now-dead planets

A new study, which is featured in journal Nature Astronomy, now tells us that the majority of the asteroids that are present in the inner asteroid belt of our Solar system have originated from ancient and infantile planets.

These planets would usually get in each other’s way and collide frequently leading them to be torn by each other due to their gravitational pulls and fragmenting into smaller, rocky bodies.

Currently, around 200,000 asteroids are present in the inner asteroid belt out of which 85 per cent asteroids have been formed from five or six dead planets. Most of these asteroids reside in the asteroid belt present between Jupiter and Mars.

Categorisation of these asteroids

According to scientists, most of the asteroids can be categorized into two major groups – family and non-family. Splitting the asteroids into two groups help the astronomers to predict the kind of formation they have and what materials they possess.

These large bodies whiz by the Earth, so of course, we’re very concerned about how many of these there are and what types of material are in them. If ever one of these comes towards the earth, and we want to deflect it, we need to know what its nature is, said Stanley Dermott, lead author of the research and a professor at University of Florida.

As of now, these asteroids have been categorized into five families- Flora, Vesta, Nysa, Polana and Eulalia.

Asteroids belonging to Ghost families

Though the true heritage of these asteroids is somewhat known, some of them couldn’t be placed into the main five families. Since these asteroids are essentially orphans, they were placed into a category called Ghost families.

These asteroids don’t hold the expected size and proportion with a very rocky appearance but the scientists still believe that they resemble some characteristics of a normal asteroid like their inclination and orbital eccentricity.

Despite the division of these asteroids, the scientists believe that this concept of families and non-families can be false.

 

 

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