A recent study conducted by a team of researchers has brought to light that the asteroids were once fragments of worlds. According to the study, a large part of the 0.5 million objects present within the asteroid belt could possibly be the remains from as many as 5 host bodies known as “planetesimals.” The study found that the orbits of these lost bodies were entangled, which implied that they were destined to face a collision. Their collision generated fragments, which also collided again, generating yet more fragments as a part of a cataclysmic cycle that has been continuing for around four billion years.
Planetary scientist Katherine Kretke at the Southwest Research Institute said that along with illuminating the “mystery” associated with the “inner asteroid belt,” the new finding also could help in understanding the evolution of the 8 planets of our Solar System.
Kretke said in a statement, “I find it really exciting that we can look back in time and potentially see evidence of what were the building blocks that built up our solar system.” Further, she explained, “If we can turn back the clock and see the asteroid belt was made by these big planetesimals that really is telling us something quite definitive about the circumstances that formed our own planet.”
The lead author of the study, astronomer Stanley Dermott at the University of Florida, did not actually had plans to solve the mystery associated with the evolution of the Solar System. He along with his colleagues was analyzing the data about the dynamics of the objects present in the “inner asteroid belt” to discover as to what forces an object to quit the belt and fly towards the Earth.
On analyzing the data, Dermott found that the orbits of many massive asteroids were inclined with respect to the Solar System’s plane. Dermott said, “We couldn’t think of any forces that are acting to produce that distribution.” He explained, having said that, “if a big asteroid is smashed up and it has a high inclination, then those fragments have that same inclination.”
Previous studies have revealed that around 0.5 of the total inner-belt asteroids are members of five families. However, the new study found that the count is about eighty-five percent. The study said that the asteroids that are members of a common family usually orbit in groups and possess a similar chemical composition.
Planetary scientist David Nesvorny at SWRI, said, the fact that asteroids actually are fragments of bigger bodies, implies that “asteroids are born big.”