Study reveals secret origins of asteroids and meteorites

Study reveals secret origins of asteroids and meteorites
Illustration of a large asteroid splintering. Credit: Don Davis

Most asteroids and meteorites originate from the splintering of a handful of minor planets formed during the infancy of our solar system, a new study shows. 

A study appearing online today in Nature Astronomy found at least 85 percent of 200,000 asteroids in the inner belt—the main source of Earth's meteorites—originate from five or six ancient minor planets. The other 15 percent may also trace their origins to the same group of primordial bodies, said Stanley Dermott, lead author and a theoretical astronomer at the University of Florida.

The discovery is important for understanding the materials that shaped our own rocky planet, Dermott said.

The finding provides a more robust understanding of the evolutionary history of asteroids and the materials that form them—information Dermott says could prove essential to protecting the Earth and ourselves from meteorites the size of the Statue of Liberty and asteroids more powerful than atomic bombs.

 "These large bodies whiz by the Earth, so of course we're very concerned about how many of these there are and what types of material are in them," said Dermott, professor emeritus in UF's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. "If ever one of these comes towards the , and we want to deflect it, we need to know what its nature is."

UF astronomer Stanley Dermott discusses his new paper on the origins of asteroids. Credit: University of Florida

Dermott's team demonstrated that the type of orbit an asteroid has depends on the size of the asteroid. This finding suggests that differences in meteorites found on Earth appear because of the evolutionary changes that occurred inside a few large, precursor bodies that existed more than four billion years ago, Dermott said. 

"I wouldn't be surprised if we eventually trace the origins of all asteroids in the , not just those in the inner belt, to a small number of known parent bodies," Dermott said. 

Building knowledge of the of bodies that formed our early solar system helps theoretical astronomers answer questions related to where like our own might exist in the universe, Dermott said. But, first, he said we have to understand the processes that produced the planet we live on.

Explore further

New theory on origin of the asteroid belt

More information: The common origin of family and non-family asteroids, Nature Astronomy (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41550-018-0482-4 ,
Journal information: Nature Astronomy

Citation: Study reveals secret origins of asteroids and meteorites (2018, July 2) retrieved 19 August 2019 from
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Jul 02, 2018
The only way my limited imagination can see, for the speculations in the article to work?

The early toriod of planetesimal debris was chaotic. As it got sorted out, the planets started to amalgamate enough mass to sweep-up or kick-out whatever was sharing their orbits. This was the preliminary organization of our Solar System. With a lot more small rocky planets then are now present.

The dominance of Jupiter assembling had to of effected the tight orbits of minor worlds. I am guessing this triggered the second chaotic phase.

A whole lot of new collisions. More planets getting booted out of the early Solar System. The theorized collision between Earth and proposed Thela would be an example of this stage of the Solar System.

Like the bacckside of a major thunderstorm is unpredictably chaotic.

Whenever the little planets proposed in this article, assembled? The second chaotic phase was when those worldlets began to break up. The source of today's asteroids.

Jul 02, 2018
Here's something with all the ifs, buts and maybes to fill out your picture...

Jul 02, 2018
Mmmmm, generally theories posit that Jupiter disturbed the planetesimals that would otherwise have formed a planet between Mars and Jupiter and prevented the formation of a planet there. I wonder if this is taken into account in this gentleman's theorizing?

Jul 02, 2018
Nik, thanks for the link to the wikipedia article on historical perspectives of the formation and development of the Solar System. It is always useful to reconsider the foundations of our present knowledge.

This article is of more recent research that confirms, refines, amplifies and corrects (simultaneously!) what we can know at the time we are learning it.

DS, gentleman? Seriously, you can't mean me? And don't call me sirius! You must be asking about the researchers?

I have not found specific mention of Jupiter's probable influence. However I doubt if they accidentally lost track of that bloated gasbag. That is why I mentioned it as my guesstimate as being the most probable cause for the second chaotic event.

Jul 03, 2018
Another adage to the grand theory of evolution:
The universe is self-made.
Stars are self-made.
Planets (and asteroids) are self-made. (so why didn't the left-overs destroy the planets too?)
Earth's biological life is self-made.
Earth's huge variety of life from microscopic to gargantuan whales and elephants is self-made.
No need whatsoever for an intelligent, all-powerful and highly ingenious God.
Notwithstanding that none of these self-mades can actually occur by itself without outside help.

The self-made rebellion against their Creator continues unabated.

Jul 03, 2018
Fred, your cognitive dissonance is showing.

Jul 03, 2018
So Fred, you are backing into acquiescing to my Theory of Stupid Design? The drunken brawling among incompetent deities?

As the most "reasonable' & most 'rational' explanation for the bungled chaos we observe in everything.

From conflicting Fundamental Forces, across the Cosmic bankruptcy. Down to the ridiculous wastage of planetary formations & unpredictable weather patterns. Further down to the chronic adapt or extinct of the teeniest microorganism. To random weak nuclear decay unto the quanta level.

The deity has expressed it's dismay that you are blaming it for this entire mishegoss of piss-poorly-planned existence. The deity points out it is humanity's monkey instincts to deny the capriciousness of reality. To demand regularity & dependability.

In a universe that mocks the irrational human self-delusion that we understand and can control the pandemonium of mercurial events.

Jul 04, 2018
To quote Spider Robinson "If felons commit felonies and gluttons commit gluttony, then God is an iron."

But hey, to make a Solar System ya have to break a few planets eh?

Jul 05, 2018
That is so dope; the asteroid belt is a true debris belt from origin until today. It also fits with the fiery beginnings of Earth (Moon creating impactor), Mars (northern plain creating impact) and Uranus (tilt creating impact).

Jul 05, 2018
@rrwillsj: I dunno about "the only way" but that seems to be the general result. Speaking of which, this was not evidence free"speculations" as you imply but a data driven model; there is as of yet no obvious alternative hypothesis predicting the data seen (but maybe the paper studied such and rejected them for various reasons).

@DaSchneib: We should read the paper. But I assume that was not a constraint that they studied as such, it is a generic model for the whole belt.

Jul 05, 2018
Fred: The most part of what you listed is not part of biology (which basic process is "[biological] evolution"), and you know it. Those things are not even part of science. Here, let me make a factual list:

- The universe is; likely always was; and why would it not be?
- Star and planet systems are the result of structure formation; ultimately derived from quantum fluctuations in the eternal inflation field. And as I noted in an earlier comment and the model implies, impactors *did* happen.

- Life likely emerged in alkaline hydrothermal vents.

- Population diversification is the result of the process of evolution; its constraint is the geological environment (see above).

- Gods do not exist; there is no "outside help" or "rebellion" [?]; the last decade has seen a model of *the universe as all there is* (thanks to general relativity) and with less than 1/1000 mass-energy parts uncertainty against magic agency doing work.

Jul 05, 2018
So I wanted to take the opportunity to crow at the victory of nature over myth, since it is recent and a nice swap from when I grew up. Scandinavia was pretty much isolated in being dominantly secular, and the best observations left - observationally silent - "gaps" for magic ideas such as religion. (Think and/or move your hands 'just so' and you may be rewarded with 'afterlife'.)

What a sea change! Not only did the last decade refute magic in general, particle physics joined - for similar all encompassing models of the quantum vacuum vs baryons - medicine and biology as the 3d science in rejecting 'souls/afterlife'. But quantified so: not enough baryonic interaction to snapshot synapse states at death even assuming architecture earlier known, > 5 sigma rejection. And now statistics tell us *the whole* of Europe is dominantly secular, with the youngest generation effectively non-religious.

'WTF, religion!? You are drunk, go home.' [/ ]

Jul 05, 2018
That should be "not enough *unknown* baryonic interaction" of course.

[But my, the analogy between the closure of space-time (and so mass-energy) in general relativity and closure of Feynman path diagrams of interactions in a complete model for standard particles is sweet! And, apparently, adds efficiency as myth killers to the analogous closure of thermodynamics for entire systems.]

The study is a nice mixture of research and speculation. We can safely assume that the asteroids are indeed the fractions of some/one earlier planet(s) in our solar system. But where the speculation goes wrong is the time of that planet breakage happening. There is good reason for assuming that this had been as recent as 73,000 B.C.E, according to this timeline:

Jul 07, 2018
The study is a nice mixture of research and speculation. We can safely assume that the asteroids are indeed the fractions of some/one earlier planet(s) in our solar system. But where the speculation goes wrong is the time of that planet breakage happening. There is good reason for assuming that this had been as recent as 73,000 B.C.E, according to this timeline:

Oh dear! And when exactly was it that Jack climbed the beanstalk, and St. George slew the dragon?
Wakey, wakey. This is a science site. Fairy tales belong elsewhere.

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