Could the asteroid Ryugu be a remnant of an extinct comet? Scientists now answer —

Asteroids maintain many clues concerning the formation and evolution of planets and their satellites. Understanding their historical past can, subsequently, reveal a lot about our photo voltaic system. Whereas observations constructed from a distance utilizing electromagnetic waves and telescopes are helpful, analyzing samples retrieved from asteroids can yield far more element about their traits and the way they might have fashioned. An endeavor on this path was the Hayabusa mission, which, in 2010, returned to Earth after 7 years with samples from the asteroid Itokawa.

The successor to this mission, known as Hayabusa2, was accomplished close to the tip of 2020, bringing again materials from Asteroid 162173 “Ryugu,” together with a group of pictures and knowledge gathered remotely from shut proximity. Whereas the fabric samples are nonetheless being analyzed, the data obtained remotely has revealed three vital options about Ryugu. Firstly, Ryugu is a rubble-pile asteroid composed of small items of rock and strong materials clumped collectively by gravity slightly than a single, monolithic boulder. Secondly, Ryugu is formed like a spinning prime, probably brought on by deformation induced by fast rotation. Third, Ryugu has a remarkably excessive natural matter content material.

Of those, the third function raises a query relating to the origin of this asteroid. The present scientific consensus is that Ryugu originated from the particles left by the collision of two bigger asteroids. Nonetheless, this can’t be true if the asteroid is excessive in natural content material (which can confirmed as soon as the analyses of the returned samples are full). What might, then, be the true origin of Ryugu?

In a latest effort to reply this query, a analysis workforce led by Affiliate Professor Hitoshi Miura of Nagoya Metropolis College, Japan, proposed an alternate rationalization backed up by a comparatively easy bodily mannequin. As defined of their paper printed in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, the researchers recommend that Ryugu, in addition to related rubble-pile asteroids, might, the truth is, be remnants of extinct comets. This examine was carried out in collaboration with Professor Eizo Nakamura and Affiliate Professor Tak Kunihiro from Okayama College, Japan.

Comets are small our bodies that type on the outer, colder areas of the photo voltaic system. They’re primarily composed of water ice, with some rocky elements (particles) blended in. If a comet enters the inside photo voltaic system — the house delimited by the asteroid belt “earlier than” Jupiter — warmth from the photo voltaic radiation causes the ice to sublimate and escape, abandoning rocky particles that compacts as a consequence of gravity and kinds a rubble-pile asteroid.

This course of matches all of the noticed options of Ryugu, as Dr. Miura explains, “Ice sublimation causes the nucleus of the comet to lose mass and shrink, which will increase its pace of rotation. On account of this spin-up, the cometary nucleus might purchase the rotational pace required for the formation of a spinning-top form. Moreover, the icy elements of comets are thought to include natural matter generated within the interstellar medium. These natural supplies could be deposited on the rocky particles left behind because the ice sublimates.”

To check their speculation, the analysis workforce performed numerical simulations utilizing a easy bodily mannequin to calculate the time it will take for the ice to sublimate and the rise in rotational pace of the ensuing asteroid as a consequence of it. The outcomes of their evaluation instructed that Ryugu has probably spent a number of tens of 1000’s of years as an energetic comet earlier than transferring into the inside asteroid belt, the place the excessive temperatures vaporized its ice and turned it right into a rubble-pile asteroid.

Total, this examine signifies that spinning top-shaped, rubble-pile objects with excessive natural content material, reminiscent of Ryugu and Bennu (the goal of the OSIRIS-Rex mission) are comet-asteroid transition objects (CATs). “CATs are small objects that have been as soon as energetic comets however have turn out to be extinct and apparently indistinguishable from asteroids,” explains Dr. Miura. “On account of their similarities with each comets and asteroids, CATs might present new insights into our photo voltaic system.”

Hopefully, detailed compositional analyses of the samples from each Ryugu and Bennu will shed extra mild on these points. Be sure to remain tuned!

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