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The newly discovered cosmic "gateway" transports small, icy objects into the inner solar system



Starting from small, icy bodies on the edge of the solar system, comets turn into spectacular gleams of light when they pass through a "gate" near Jupiter.

This The Tor is a region in space where objects known as centaurs – small, icy bodies that circle between Jupiter and Neptune – begin to approach the sun. They warm themselves and become "active". It mainly releases a dusty gas halo, which makes these small bodies technically comets. "We have found that there is a nexus point in orbit where small bodies change their orbit, which is what we called 'the gate'," said lead author Gal Sarid, a planetary scientist at the University of Central Florida.

The Gateway region is like a donut that wraps itself around the inner solar system and contains many possible orbits in its thick ring. Sarid and his team first came up with the Gateway idea after seeing a peculiar centaur named 29P / Schwassmann-Wachmann 1

or SWI. Although technically a centaur, SWI is very active and releases gasses on a regular basis, as a comet does, Sarid said.

Related: Fallen Stars: A Gallery of Famous Meteorites

The researchers then modeled other such small, icy bodies on the edge of the solar system and found many of them took the same route as SWI – starting from Neptune and moving on an irregular lane between Jupiter and Neptune and then to this gateway region. Indeed, the scientists found that one in five centaurs they analyzed reached a similar orbit to SW1 at some point in time.

On this journey, the Centaurs spawn most of the comets of the Jupiter family, a group of comets called "short-period comets" that circle the sun in less than 200 years. Their models suggest that centaurs do not stay in the gateway region for long. Most become comets of the Jupiter family within a few thousand years and enter the inner solar system. That's a short time, considering that comets can live millions or billions of years.

But this is not a one-way street. The researchers' models show that comets of the Jupiter family sometimes return to the Gateway region and move away from the Sun. The data showed that 70% of the comets of the Jupiter family spend time in the Gateway region and either move towards the inner solar system or the outskirts. "You can go back and forth like a revolving door," Sarid said.

"The gateway model should not solve every possible question," said Sarid. "The idea was to identify this region where this transition took place." This model could eventually tell us something about the early solar system, he added. "When the solar system was formed very early, it was made up of smaller pieces into larger pieces," as Ikea furniture is built, he said. These comets, centaurs and other small objects are like bolts and nuts of a cabinet.

The findings were first published on August 12 in the Preprint Journal arXiv and are published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters this week.

Originally published on Live Science .


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