Researchers discover a gateway for asteroids in space

There are several zones in the solar system that are home to many asteroids. Between Jupiter and Neptune they are called centaurs. They came through a cosmic gateway from the edge of the planetary system.

KDo you name the centaurs Chiron, Pholus and Nessus? They are asteroids that orbit the sun between the planets Jupiter and Neptune. Astronomers have long assumed that these rocks originally came from the so-called Kuiper Belt, the region on the edge of our solar system that is home to a huge number of asteroids.

Experts estimate that there are over 35,000 celestial bodies with a diameter of more than 100 kilometers. In the event of a collision, these can be thrown out of their orbit in such a way that they fly into the solar system and are then caught by the gravity of the giant planets.

In “The Astrophysical Journal Letters” in 2019, scientists from the University of Central Florida reported the discovery of a “cosmic gate” through which celestial bodies fly out of the Kuiper Belt before they are captured near Jupiter and thus become a centaur.

The scientists working with Gal Sarid and Maria Womack calculated the orbits of several centaurs with the help of computer simulations and found that they always flown through a “gateway”. “It’s like a cradle for comets,” says Sarid. “This discovery will change the way we think about these heavenly bodies.”

The orbits of the centaurs are very unstable under the influence of the strong gravitational forces, one can also say chaotic. They stay a maximum of a few million years between the giant planets Jupiter and Neptune before they are either thrown back to the edge of the solar system or even beyond – or even further into the interior of the solar system.
As they get closer to the sun, they can become those tailed stars that we call comets. And there is always the possibility that such a celestial body will cross the orbit of the earth on its way through the solar system.

The region between Jupiter and Neptune can be seen as a temporary storage facility for asteroids, from which individual objects are repeatedly catapulted into the interior of the solar system. Due to the chaotic orbits of the centaurs, it is difficult to predict when such events can be expected.

Between the planets Jupiter and Mars there is another collection of asteroids called the asteroid belt or the main belt. In this region, astronomers have so far been able to detect more than 650,000 celestial bodies with the help of telescopes. The dwarf planet Ceres is one of them. The total mass of all asteroids in the main belt is around five percent of the mass of our moon.

The asteroids in the Kuiper belt, in the main belt or in the realm of the centaurs have one thing in common: They move – like all planets in the solar system – in a common plane. Celestial bodies that fly obliquely through this plane have their origin outside of our solar system. So far only two such exo-asteroids have been observed.