Tag: solar system

New Research Finds The Very Early Solar System Went Through an Especially Intense Period of Asteroid Collisions

An artist’s view of the very early solar system, where dust was collecting into small rocks, which smashed into each other and some became larger. The height of the crash-ups took place during a surprisingly short period of time. (Tobias Stierli, flaeck / PlanetS)

In the earliest days of our solar system — before any planets had been cobbled together — the recently formed Sun was circled by cosmic gas and dust. Over time, fragments of rock formed from the dust and many of these orbiting rocks smashed together and some became the gradually larger components of planets-to-be.  Others were not part of any planet formation and became asteroids orbiting the Sun, and sometimes falling to Earth as meteorites.

Scientists have found that these asteroids (and their Earth-bound pieces) remained relatively unchanged since their formation billions of years ago.

And so they provide an archive of sorts, in which the conditions of the early solar system are preserved.

Alison Hunt, a planetary scientist at ETH Zurich in Switzerland, led a team that looked at some of that early solar system history and came up with some surprising results.

She and her team at the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) PlanetS found that almost all of the asteroidal-cores-turned-meteorites they studied had been formed in a short four-million-year period starting almost eight million years the solar system first came into being.  A four million-year time span is short in astronomical terms and also unusual in terms of the precision achieved for the dating.

These results, and some inferences about why this period was so chaotic in the early solar system, were reported in Nature Astronomy late last month.

But before we look at why this might have happened, let’s explore a bit about how the team achieved such precise data about when many asteroids were formed.

One of the iron meteorite samples the team analyzed that was, long ago, the core of an asteroid. (Aurelia Meister)

To access this asteroid/meteorite archive, the researchers had to prepare and examine the extraterrestrial material from iron meteorites that had fallen to Earth.  Once part of the metallic cores of asteroids, samples from 18 different iron meteorites were used in the analysis.

The researchers first had to dissolve the samples to be able to isolate the elements palladium, silver and platinum — the key to their efforts.

Using a mass spectrometer they measured abundances of different and identifiable isotopes of these elements, and with their results they could put tighter constraints on the timing of events in the early solar system.

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The Case Strengthens For "Planet 9"

Caption: An artist’s conception of Planet X, courtesy of Robin Dienel.

An artist’s conception of Planet 9, or Planet X, which scientists theorize orbits in the distant solar system.  (Robin Dienel/ Carnegie Institution of Washington)

The race is on to find the giant planet that several teams of astronomers are convinced orbits far out beyond Pluto, but is nonetheless still part of our solar system.  Proving the existence of what has become known as Planet X, or Planet 9, would be a discovery for the textbooks and would inevitably change our understanding of how our solar system was formed.

The technology and luck needed to image the planet (if it truly is there) has thus far fallen short, but the discovery of another set of distant solar system objects traveling in surprising orbits has added to the indirect findings that point to a substantial, and perhaps giant planet in the general vicinity.

The new findings come from Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution for Science and Chadwick Trujillo of Northern Arizona University, who two years ago provided some of the first intriguing inklings that this distant planet might exist in our solar system.  That information was subsequently modified and broadened by a California Institute of Technology team, but with the same conclusion that a substantial Planet 9 appeared to be present in the outer solar system.

“What we’ve just released is data on the first extreme objects since the {2014 and 2016} reports of a theorized Planet 9,  and they show the same clustering and orbiting patterns that we think are likely caused by a major planet,” Sheppard said.

“This continues the trend of finding these objects — small dwarf planets or maybe icy objects — that were pushed into similar orbits in ways we think only planets can do.”

“We need more,” he said, “but the evidence is mounting, and at this point I’d say there’s an 80 percent likelihood that the planet is there.”

An illustration of the orbits of 2013 FT28, 2014 SR349, and previously known extremely distant Solar System objects. The clustering of most of their orbits indicates that they are likely be influenced by something massive and very distant, the proposed Planet Nine. Image credit: Robin Dienel.

An illustration of the orbits of newly-discovered small, trans-Neptune objects 2013 FT28, 2014 SR349, and previously known extremely distant Solar System objects. The clustering of most of their orbits indicates that they are likely be influenced by something massive and very distant, the proposed Planet 9 . (Carnegie Institution of Washington, Robin Dienel)

Some call the potential celestial object Planet X and some call it Planet 9 — as in, the ninth planet in our solar system now that Pluto has been demoted to a dwarf planet. … Read more

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