A new computer simulation suggests that the dwarf planet Ceres may have been slammed by the gravitational pull of gas giant Jupiter toward the sun during the turbulent age of planet formation 4.5 billion years ago.
There was always something out of place Ceres. Ceres is 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) wide, and is the largest object in the world asteroid beltthe region between the orbits of Mars And Jupiter where space rocks (Most of them are only tens or hundreds of meters in size and oddly shaped) They congregate.
Round like a planet, Ceres also contains some strange chemical compounds, such as ammonia, that are not found 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 led by researchers from São Paulo State University in Brazil has revealed a mechanism that may have displaced Ceres from its original hometown in the distant past.
Related: Ceres, the dwarf planet’s biggest mystery
“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 São Paulo State University in Brazil and lead author of the new study. universe today. “In this scenario, Ceres is starting to form into an orbit much further away Saturnwhere ammonia was plentiful. During the giant planet’s growth phase, it was pulled into the asteroid belt as an immigrant from the outside Solar System And he lived 4.5 billion years now.”
While ammonia is not visible in ordinary space rock, ammonia is common in it cometsdirty snowballs that originate in the cooler outer regions of the solar system and come to visit us from time to time, providing stunning views of astronomers with their stunning tails of vaporizing gas.
Comet tails appear when comets approach the Sun where temperatures are high enough to melt their ice. Something similar is happening with Ceres, the only body in the asteroid belt that has a thin atmosphere of vaporized water and ammonia ice, according to Universe Today.
But if Ceres formed where comets formed, how exactly did it end up in the asteroid belt?
The study indicates that the key is the strong gravity From the gas giant Jupiter, which appeared as the main force during the formation of the solar system 4.5 billion years ago.
“Our simulations showed that the stage of giant planet formation was very turbulent, with massive collisions between its ancestors. Uranus And Neptunethe expulsion of planets from the solar system, and even the invasion of the inner region by planets with masses greater than three times Land“In addition, the strong gravitational perturbation caused Ceres-like bodies to scatter all over. Some may have reached the asteroid belt region and gained stable orbits capable of surviving other events,” said Ribeiro de Sousa.
During this cosmic billiards period, there were probably as many as 3,600 small Ceres-sized planets bouncing around the protoplanetary disk of dust and gas from which the planets originated.
“With this number of objects, our model showed that one of them can be transported and captured in the asteroid belt, in an orbit very similar to the current Ceres,” said Ribeiro de Sousa.
It’s not the first study to reach such conclusions, according to Universe Today, but it does contribute to a growing understanding of the violent early years of the formation of the solar system.
“Our scenario enabled us to confirm the number and explain Ceres’ orbital and chemical properties,” said Ribeiro de Sousa.
Astronomers know a lot about Ceres thanks to NASA’s Dawn Missionwhich orbited the dwarf planet first, then the asteroid vista, the second largest object in the asteroid belt, in the first decade of the twenty-first century. The Dawn spacecraft ran out of fuel in 2018 while in orbit around Ceres.
the study It was published in Icarus on May 17th.