Missing asteroids reveal planet-sized mystery

By | February 27, 2009

Missing asteroids in our solar system may be the handiwork of rampaging giant planets as they migrated to their current positions, according to a new computer simulation.

Scientists have known that planets such as Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune migrated during the first several million years of early existence. The new simulation showed that the giant planets would have disturbed many asteroids as they fled the scene, leaving behind “footprints” that match the real-life patterns in the main asteroid belt.

“It really showed evidence that the footprints of planet migration are visible today in asteroid distribution,” said David Minton, a planetary sciences researcher at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

Patterns of planet migration

Previous evidence has suggested that the giant planets once formed a more compact huddle. But their gravitational interactions with the then-larger Kuiper Belt, an icy region beyond Neptune filled with comet-like bodies, ended up fueling a migration.

“Each time the planets tossed these Kuiper Belt objects around, they would move a little,” Minton told SPACE.com.

Jupiter ended up moving slightly closer to the sun, while the other giant planets moved farther apart from both the sun and each other. Minton and Renu Malhotra, another planetary scientist at the University of Arizona, wanted to examine possible aftereffects of that unstable period.

via Missing asteroids reveal planet-sized mystery – Space.com- msnbc.com.

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