An international team of scientists from the U.S., France, the Czech Republic, and Finland found that near-Earth asteroids have a less spectacular demise than thought. Past research had suggested that the fast-moving space objects end their days after crashing into the sun.
But the new analysis has found that comets and asteroids that whizz past our planet, also known as near-Earth objects (NEOs), disintegrate long before they are able to touch the blazing surface of the star.
NEOs usually emerge from the Kuiper Belt, a doughnut-shaped area between Mars and Jupiter crowded with space rocks of various forms and sizes. NEOs, however, leave the belt and head toward Earth when the gravitational pull of a nearby gas giants such as Jupiter and Saturn pulls them out.
Robert Jedicke, co-author of the study and researcher with the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy, explained that he and his fellow researchers have designed a computer model based on the behavior of more than 9,000 NEOs.
The model suggests that comets and asteroids that race past Earth do not end their journey with a fiery splash into the Sun. If that were the case, there would have been many more NEOs close to the sun than there currently are.
A research paper on the findings was published Feb 17 in Nature. The 100,000 plus images used to build the model were collected by Arizona-based Catalina Sky Survey (CSS) over the last eight years.
Researchers explained that about 10 NEOs should have been in the Sun’s closest proximity, if the older theory was correct. Instead, the team identified only one. Yet, they needed another year to confirm their findings.
After one year, they learned that there was no flaw in their calculations. Instead the previous view of how asteroids and comets disappear was wrong. The team found that NEOs shatter before even reaching the Sun.
Still, scientists haven’t reached a consensus on the forces that break the space objects up before reaching their destination. There was a consensus on some other aspects. For instance, brighter asteroids survive longer than darker ones, while tinier asteroids vanish quicker than larger ones.
The new findings also helped scientists better understand the origin of the meteors that enter our planet’s skies. Study authors reached the conclusion that by the time the tiny space rocks turn into shooting stars, the asteroids that produced them may have already died.
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