Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Kuiper-belt Object Was Broken Up By Massive Impact 4.5 Billion Years Ago

Date:
March 23, 2007
Source:
California Institute of Technology
Summary:
In the outer reaches of the solar system, there is an object known as 2003 EL61 that looks like and spins like a football being drop-kicked over the proverbial goalpost of life. Still awaiting a more poetic name, 2003 EL61 largely escaped the media hubbub during last year's demotion of Pluto, but new findings could make it one of the most important of the Kuiper-belt objects for understanding the workings of the solar system.

2003 EL61 (as shown in this computer-generated image) is the third-largest known dwarf planet in the Kuiper belt, the region of space beyond Neptune that contains the larger dwarf planets Eris and Pluto as well as thousands of smaller objects.
Credit: Image courtesy of Michael E. Brown, California Institute of Technology

Still awaiting a more poetic name, 2003 EL61 largely escaped the media hubbub during last year's demotion of Pluto, but new findings could make it one of the most important of the Kuiper-belt objects for understanding the workings of the solar system. In a recent issue of Nature, the original discoverer of the body, Mike Brown, announces with his colleagues that an entire family of bodies seems to have originated from a catastrophic collision involving 2003 EL61 about the time Earth was forming.

n, announces with his colleagues that an entire family of bodies seems to have originated from a catastrophic collision involving 2003 EL61 about the time Earth was forming.

Brown and his team base their assumptions on similar surface properties and orbital dynamics of smaller chunks still in the general vicinity. They conclude that 2003 EL61 was spherical and nearly the size of Pluto until it was rammed by a slightly smaller body about 4.5 billion years ago, leaving behind the football-shaped body we see today and a couple of moons, as well as many more fragments that flew away entirely.

"Some of these chunks are still in orbit around the sun and very near the orbit of 2003 EL61 itself," says Brown, a professor of planetary astronomy at the California Institute of Technology. "The impact made a tremendous fireball, and large icy chunks of the big object split off and went flying into space, leaving behind a huge ice-covered rock spinning end over end every four hours.

"It spins so fast that it has pulled itself into the shape of an American football, but one that's a bit deflated and stepped on," Brown adds.

A significant part of the finding is that the collision occurred in a region of space where orbits are not very stable. "In most places, things go around the sun minding their own business for 4.5 billion years and nothing happens," says Brown. "But in a few places, though, orbits go crazy and change and eventually objects can find themselves on a trajectory into the inner solar system, where they would be what we would then call comets."

As a consequence, many of the shards probably made their way to the inner solar system, and a few have undoubtedly hit Earth in the past. The study thus provides new ideas about how the solar system evolves, and how comets fit into the big picture.

Brown adds that 2003 EL61 will put on quite a show in about a billion years, if anyone is still around to enjoy it.

"It's a long time to wait, but 2003 EL61 could become by far the largest comet in eons," Brown says. "It will be something like 6,000 times brighter than Hale-Bopp a few years ago."

The other authors of the paper are Kristin Barkume, Darin Ragozzine, and Emily Schaller, all graduate students in planetary science at Caltech.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by California Institute of Technology. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

California Institute of Technology. "Kuiper-belt Object Was Broken Up By Massive Impact 4.5 Billion Years Ago." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 March 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/03/070322142418.htm>.
California Institute of Technology. (2007, March 23). Kuiper-belt Object Was Broken Up By Massive Impact 4.5 Billion Years Ago. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 2, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/03/070322142418.htm
California Institute of Technology. "Kuiper-belt Object Was Broken Up By Massive Impact 4.5 Billion Years Ago." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/03/070322142418.htm (accessed September 2, 2014).

Share This




More Space & Time News

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: NASA Captures Solar Flare

Raw: NASA Captures Solar Flare

AP (Sep. 1, 2014) NASA reported the sun emitted a mid-level solar flare, on August 24th. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured the images of the flare, which erupted on the left side of the sun. (Sept. 1) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Space Shuttle Discovery's Legacy, 30 Years Later

Space Shuttle Discovery's Legacy, 30 Years Later

Newsy (Aug. 30, 2014) The space shuttle Discovery launched for the very first time 30 years ago. Here's a look back at its legacy. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Experiment Tests Whether Universe Is Actually A Hologram

Experiment Tests Whether Universe Is Actually A Hologram

Newsy (Aug. 27, 2014) Researchers at Fermilab are using a device called "The Holometer" to test whether our universe is actually a 2-D hologram that just seems 3-D. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Rocket Explodes After Liftoff

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Rocket Explodes After Liftoff

Newsy (Aug. 23, 2014) The private spaceflight company says it is preparing a thorough investigation into Friday's mishap. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins