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Naughty Little Comets
She liked to look at the planets, and could not wish for a better gaiety
Than just seeing the telescopes aimed at her from Earth–“Bad Comet,” Ella Wheeler Wilcox
There are certain little objects that playfully frolic in our Sun’s family that stubbornly refuse to be easily categorized. Main Belt Comets (MBCs) there are such objects! They are a newly recognized new group, spinning around in our Solar System within the Main Asteroid Beltwhich lies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. MBCs are strange and puzzling small worlds that exhibit both the physical properties of comets and the orbital properties of asteroids. Because they possess characteristics of two distinct groups of Solar System inhabitants, their origins have proven somewhat difficult to determine. Some astronomers now suggest that the members of this strange family are the shattered fragments of larger ones Main Zone asteroids that were destroyed in catastrophic collisions with other asteroids.
Comets are small, icy bodies that make a long, treacherous journey through the Solar System in long elliptical orbits. They are famous for their glowing, thrashing tails that erupt whenever they travel close enough to the Sun. This is because the heat and solar winds join forces to melt the surface of their frozen cores.
Comets and asteroids are the remnants of a myriad of falling bodies that existed when our Solar System was very young. Our Solar System was born about 4.6 billion years ago with the collapse of a relatively small dense pocket embedded in a giant dark, cold molecular cloud. The lion’s share of the collapse pocket froze in the center, and then ignited due to nuclear fusion, giving birth to our Star, the Sun. The remaining mass flattened out and became what is called a protoplanetary accretion disk from which the eight major planets, their numerous magical moons, comets, asteroids and other small Solar System objects were formed.
Protoplanetary accretion disks have been observed surrounding many stars residing in young star clusters. They develop at the same time a baby star is born, but the earliest stages cannot be seen because they are shrouded in an opaque envelope of dust and gas. The sharpening disk feeds material to the starving baby star, or protostar, and it is both very hot and extremely massive. These discs can hang around their young stars for about 10 million years.
When the young star reaches what is called the T Tauri stage, the feeding disc grew both slimmer and much cooler. A T Tauri A star is a very young jumping baby of an energy variable star that is less than 10 million years old. Such stars have a mass similar to, or perhaps a little less than, that of our Sun — which is a relatively small star. T Tauri stars have diameters several times greater than that of our Sun, but they are still in the process of shrinking. Baby Sun-like stars shrink as they age. When the young star reached this stage, less volatile materials began to condense near the center of the sharpening disk, forming very, very sticky dust grains that are so fine they resemble smoke, rather than the household dust that needs to be swept away. Those sticky, smoke-like grains of very fine dust contain crystalline silicates.
The very fine particles of smoke-like dust combine to form increasingly larger objects within the dense. disk environment in which they live. The small dust grains form objects up to several centimeters in size, and these are further combined to form planetesimals Planet Decimals are the building blocks of planets, and they can reach sizes of 1 kilometer across–or larger. Planet Decimals are extremely abundant, and spread throughout the protoplanetary accretion disk–and some survive long enough to remain as relics billions of years after the formation of the mature planetary system. Asteroidsas those inhabiting it’s own Solar System, are left behind rocky planetesimals. Cometson the other hand, there are glacial relics planetesimals from the outer limits of our Solar System. The asteroids are the remaining building blocks of the rocky inner planets — Mercury, Venus, our Earth and Mars. The comets are the remaining building blocks of the outer gas and ice giant planets – Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.
The asteroids is found mainly in the Main Asteroid Beltalthough there are various, different populations of those stone objects that live outside of that Zonetoo. Comets are fragile and ephemeral bodies, sometimes dismissively called “dirty snowballs” or “ice mudballs”, depending on the observer’s point of view. They are strange, beautiful travelers from afar.
The icy, dirty comets strip into the inner warm region of the Earth of the Solar System from two dark and frozen domains in the outer limits. The first is called the Kuiper Belt. The Kuiper Belt revolves around our Star beyond the orbit of Neptune — the farthest of the eight main planets from the Sun. The second domain of comets is the Oort Cloudwhich is an enormous sphere of icy objects that supposedly surrounds our entire Solar System.
Every time wandering a comet makes its perilous journey into the inner Solar System, it loses some of its mass by sublimation of its surface ices and gas — the icy surface of the nucleus turns to gas, and creates a cloud called a. a coma. Solar radiation forces dust particles away from the a comaand this forms the famous dust thrash, flashing tails of comets
Rock, metal asteroids in the Main Zone normally don’t display one a comet-similar behavior. Asteroids in the Main Zone must not develop comae or flashing, thrashing tails. However, the newly recognized class of Main Belt Comets exhibit exactly this type of behavior, while it orbits the Sun in a way that is characteristic of asteroids–no comets!
MBCs are extremely perplexed. They look like comets with the tail and comaebut they spin around in orbits within that of the planet Jupiter — just like asteroids!
The first of this bewildering group to be discovered was an asteroid 1979 OW7, which was rediscovered and renamed 1996 N2and then designated a comet by Dr. Erik Elst and Dr. Guido Pizarro in 1996. It now carries a comet naming as 133P/Elst-Pizarro. For many years, determining the nature of this enigmatic object has been a problem. It was originally conceived to be the tragic result of a collision between two asteroids. However, 133P sublimated and developed a tail just like a a comet on three consecutive perihelion passages, and that obscured the matter. The perihelion of an object refers to that point in its orbit when it is closest to the Sun–sort of aphelion is when it is furthest away. This behavior, at the time, indicated to confused astronomers that the asteroid impact model was unlikely.
Some of the currently known MBCs, In addition to 133Pis 176P/LINEAR, 238P/Read, P2008 R1 (Garradd), P/2010 R2 (The Sacred), P/2010 A2 (LINEAR), 596 Scheila, 300163, and P/2012 F5 (Gibbs). Some astronomers now suggest that these objects are, in fact, the remains of larger bodies shattered in recent collisions, and that they inherited the ices of their parent asteroid, causing them to be exposed. a comet-like behaviorl To add credibility to this theory, however, it was first necessary to determine whether the MBCs are members of a particular family of asteroids – groups of asteroids having similar orbital characteristics, such as orbital inclination and eccentricity The members of a particular asteroid family are probably all pieces blown off by a larger asteroid that was pulverized in a collision.
Serbian astronomer Dr. Bojan Novakovic, from the Department of Astronomy at the University of Belgrade, is currently investigating the mysterious origins of MBCs, together with colleagues Dr. Henry Hsieh and Dr. Alberto Cellino. The team of astronomers focused on one main example — the P/2006 VW 139 MBCand their goal was to see if it could be assigned to a family of asteroids. P/2006 VW 139 was originally classified as an asteroid, but was finally reclassified as an MBC in 2011, when astronomers in Hawaii discovered that it had a tail.
Dr. Novakovic began his study at the AstDys database, which is a catalog of 398,841 asteroids. There are less than a dozen verified examples of MBCs, and so finding other members of this family of asteroids among hundreds of thousands of possible candidates was not exactly an easy job. The team of astronomers used what is called the hierarchical clustering method and the cutoff distance parameter to weed their way through the candidates. They successfully narrowed down the possibilities to just 24 asteroids. The next step was to determine the orbital characteristics possessed by these 24 asteroids. For this task, Dr. Novakovic used a mathematical model called backward integration, “which can be used to distinguish real family members from intruders,” he commented on November 7, 2012. International Science Network This Week (isgtw).
To investigate the orbital characteristics of candidate family members, Dr. Novakovic needed to go through a large number of calculations that were “computationally expensive and would take months to do on a typical computer,” he added. Finally, Dr. Novakovic and his colleagues were able to reduce the P/2006 VW139 family up to only 11 members.
The most valuable conclusion of Dr. Novakovic’s study, which was published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Is that P/2006 VW139 and its 11 siblings are part of a young asteroid family that was probably born about 7.5 million years ago. “[Asteroid] families are considered young if they are less than 10 million years old,” Dr. Novakovic continued to explain. This indicates that about 7.5 million years ago, a large asteroid smashed into another asteroid and broke into 11 smaller pieces —P/2006 VW139 and its 10 sisters.
P/2006 VW139 became a MBC because it inherited the deeply buried ice belonging to its catastrophically pulverized parent asteroid. That ice eventually evaporated, producing a trailing tail that is characteristic of comets. “The fact that ice still exists close to the surface of P/2006 VW 139 means its surface is relatively young,” Dr. Novakovic noted on November 7, 2012. isgtw. This means that P/2006 VW 139 and its 10 sisters were born long after the Main Asteroid Belt.
This finding is important because it supports the theory that MBCs is born in asteroid smashes within the Main Asteroid Beltand not by other means.
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