Asteroids in orbit around Mars and Jupiter may have come from ancient minor planets that shattered into several tiny pieces a few billion years ago.
Researchers from the University of Florida propose that asteroids, along with meteorites that strike the surface of the Earth, are tiny splinters of small ancient planets that were once part of the primordial solar system.
The researchers say their new findings bring new insight that can help them understand how asteroids and meteorites form and devise technologies to help deflect these celestial bodies if they happen to travel in a trajectory that hits the Earth.
The Prevailing Theory On Asteroids
The main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter is a disk of asteroids and minor planets that travel in orbit around the sun. Scientists have come to see the asteroid belt as the dividing line between the inner rocky planets and the outer gas giants.
For a long time, the prevailing theory was the asteroid belt was more heavily populated than it is today. However, the gravitational force coming from Jupiter pushed out 99 percent of the material and flung it out to other parts of the solar system. This very same gravity also prevented the asteroids from coming together to form a single body.
5 Ancient Planets Gave Birth To Asteroids
In a new study published in the journal Nature Astronomy, researchers at the University of Florida argue that the asteroid belt started out empty. Some 4 billion years ago, five or six minor planets shattered into several small pieces that are now called asteroids.
Lead author Stanley Dermott, a theoretical astronomer at UF's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, says that at least 85 percent of all bodies in the asteroid belt must have come from these ancient planets.
There is also a huge possibility that the remaining 15 percent have the same origins, although it is also likely that they come from a common large body but no longer cluster in orbit.
The researchers classified the asteroids as belonging to five families, or groups of asteroids that come from the same larger body. These are Eulalia, Flora, Nysa, Polana, and Vesta.
"I wouldn't be surprised if we eventually trace the origins of all asteroids in the main asteroid belt, not just those in the inner belt, to a small number of known parent bodies," Dermott says.
Support From An Earlier Study
The findings of the research also align with a recent study supplanting the age-old theory that Jupiter's influence created the asteroid belt as experts know it today.
In September 2017, researchers from the Université de Bordeaux in Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France advanced the idea that asteroids were once bits and pieces that broke off from the planets in the solar system.
The researchers said that S-type asteroids have high amounts of silicates, minerals that are found in abundance in the inner rocky planets. On the other hand, the C-type asteroids are teeming with carbon, similar to the gas planets on the outer edges of the solar system.