A new computer simulation suggests that the dwarf planet Ceres may have been thrown by the gravity of gas giant Jupiter toward the sun during the volatile era of planet formation 4.5 billion years ago.
There’s always been something out of place Ceres. At 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) wide, Ceres is by far the largest body in the asteroid beltthe region between the orbits of March and Jupiter or space rocks (most of them measuring only tens or hundreds of meters and having a strange shape) gather.
Round like a planet, Ceres also contains strange chemical compounds, such as ammonia, which are not present in its neighbors. The strange nature of Ceres has long led scientists to believe that the dwarf planet is an intruder in the asteroid belt. A new simulation conducted by researchers at Sao Paulo State University in Brazil has now revealed a mechanism that may have moved Ceres from its original birthplace into the distant past.
“In our article, we propose a scenario to explain why Ceres is so different from neighboring asteroids,” said Rafael Ribeiro de Sousa, professor of physics at Sao Paulo State University in Brazil and lead author of the new study. . Universe today. “In this scenario, Ceres began to form in an orbit far beyond Saturn, where ammonia was abundant. During the growth phase of the giant planet, it was pulled into the asteroid belt as a migrant from outside solar system and has survived for 4.5 billion years until now.”
Although invisible in ordinary space rocks, ammonia is common in cometsthe dirty snowballs that come from the much colder outer regions of the solar system and come to visit us from time to time, providing spectacular views for astronomers with their amazing tails of evaporating gas.
Comet tails appear when comets approach the sun where temperatures are high enough to melt their ice. Something similar is happening with Ceres, which is the only object in the asteroid belt to have a thin atmosphere of evaporating water and ammonia ice, according to Universe Today.
But if Ceres formed where comets form, how exactly did it end up in the asteroid belt?
The key, according to the study, is the powerful gravity gas giant Jupiter, which emerged as a major force in the formation of the solar system 4.5 billion years ago.
“Our simulations showed that the formation stage of the giant planets was very turbulent, with huge collisions between the precursors of Uranus and Neptuneejection of planets from the solar system, and even invasion of the inner region by planets of mass greater than three times Earth“, Ribeiro de Sousa said. “Furthermore, the strong gravitational disturbance scattered objects similar to Ceres everywhere. Some may well have reached the asteroid belt region and acquired stable orbits capable of surviving further events.”
During this period of cosmic billiards, there may have been as many as 3,600 Ceres-sized mini-planets bouncing around the protoplanetary disk of dust and gas from which the planets emerged.
“With this number of objects, our model showed that one of them could have been transported and captured in the asteroid belt, in an orbit very similar to the current orbit of Ceres,” Ribeiro said. of Sousa.
The study isn’t the first to come to such conclusions, according to Universe Today, but it contributes to the growing understanding of the violent early years of the solar system’s formation.
“Our scenario allowed us to confirm the number and explain the orbital and chemical properties of Ceres,” Ribeiro de Sousa said.
Astronomers know a lot about Ceres thanks to NASA’s Dawn Missionwhich first orbited the dwarf planet, then the asteroid Vestathe second largest object in the asteroid belt, in the 2010s. The Dawn spacecraft ran out of fuel in 2018 while orbiting Ceres.
The study was published in the Icarus journal on May 17.
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