Scientists Solve The Mystery Of Missing Asteroids

Posted: Feb 17 2016, 10:49pm CST | by , Updated: Feb 19 2016, 9:34am CST, in News | Latest Science News

Scientists Solve the Mystery of Missing Asteroids
Credit: Karen Teramura, UH IfA

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Near-Earth Objects are destroyed much farther from the Sun than previously thought.

It is widely believed that most near-Earth asteroids and comets dramatically plunge into the Sun and disappear. But new research suggests that it might not be the case. Asteroids are destroyed by the Sun at a distance much farther than previously thought.

A team of international researchers have built a new model representing near-Earth objects (NEOs) population.

For creating the possibly best-ever model, researchers used the properties of 9,000 asteroids and other near-Earth objects that has been captured by Catalina Sky Survey (CSS) over eight years. Researchers were expecting to find 10 times more objects orbiting close to Sun than there actually are. Surprisingly many of the objects were missing.

It took a year for researchers to realize that the problem was not in their analysis but in their assumptions about how asteroids end their life. They suggest that NEOs are destroyed close to the Sun long before making an actual collision.

“The discovery that asteroids must be breaking up when they approach too close to the Sun was surprising and that’s why we spent so much time verifying our calculations.” Dr. Robert Jedicke from University of Hawai’i Institute for Astronomy said.

An asteroid is classified as an NEO if its closest approach to the Sun is less than 1.3 astronomical unit (AU) and thereby it poses a danger of collision. These asteroids and comets stick to their normal orbit for billions of years but sometimes gravitational attraction of nearby planets pushes them into Earth’s neighborhood.

Researchers suggest that this finding has implications for other small missing objects in space such as meteors. Meteors or shooting stars are tiny particles of dust and rocks that are dislodged from asteroids and comets and burn up as they enter the Earth’s atmosphere. These meteors follow the path of their parent object but most of the time astronomers have not been able to detect those parent objects. It indicates that the parent objects were destroyed when they came too close to the Sun – leaving behind only meteors but no asteroid or comet.

“Perhaps the most intriguing outcome of the study is that it is now possible to test models of asteroid interiors simply by keeping track of their orbits and sizes,” said lead author Dr. Mikael Granvik. “This is truly remarkable and was completely unexpected when we first started constructing the new NEO model.”

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