Strange binary asteroid shows solar system unrest happened in the beginning

An artistic rendering of the binary asteroid Patroclus-Menoetius.

(W. M. Keck Observatory/Lynette Cook)

A strange couple of space rocks rotating around each other if they are in an orbit around the sun, has helped scientists pinpoint when our solar system developed its current formation.

That is according to new research on Patroclus and Menoetius, a bizarre large binary asteroid chases Jupiter. It is in one of the two special clusters of dozens of space rocks, a lead of Jupiter and one behind the gas giant, which scientists call Trojan horses.

“The Trojans were probably made during a dramatic period of dynamical instability during a skirmish between the solar system and the giant planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune — has occurred,” David Nesvorny, lead author of the new research and a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Texas, said in a statement released by the facility.

When Uranus and Neptune were pushed out further from the sun, they ran into what became known as the Kuiper Belt, that our planetary rings of neighbors. In the process, she kicked some of these objects to where they were trapped as Trojan asteroids.

More Of

  • Trojans

  • Late Heavy Bombardment

  • The NASA spacecraft named Lucy

But binary asteroids come with a time stamp of sorts: They are the simplest form early in the solar system, the history, when there were more pieces of the rock flying around the place. So the scientists behind the new research uses models to examine how a large binary asteroid as Patroclus-Menoetius can sneak into the Trojan groups.

The models suggest that their journey must have taken place about 100 million years after the solar system formed, much earlier than previous estimates. Otherwise, it is likely the couple would be broken as a result of interactions with other space rocks before they can migrate in the direction of Jupiter.

If this is the beginning of the reorganization date, this may have consequences closer to home, the authors wrote. It would mean that the objects were ejected during the Late Heavy Bombardment period of about 400 million to 700 million years after the formation of the solar system, would come from the inner solar system. Their scars are still visible, particularly on the surface of the moon and Mars.

The research is described in an article published yesterday (Sept. 10) in the journal Nature Astronomy.

Scientists interested in the Patroclus-Menoetius some hope that this strange rocks hide many secrets and they build a NASA spacecraft called Lucy, to start in 2021, a visit to a handful of asteroids, including the couple.

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