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'Cosmic Graveyard' With At Least 85,000 Extinct Comets - Discovered

2 August, 2013

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MessageToEagle.com - Researchers at the University of Antioquia have discovered what appears to be a graveyard of extinct comets. Astronomers also claim to have discovered a group of comet-like bodies they have dubbed “Lazarus comets”.

The asteroid belt comets – or ABCs for short – lie in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, as stated by NASA’s expert Carolyn Crown, at a distance of 2,12 - 3,3 astronomical units (an astronomical unit is the average distance between the Sun and Earth).

The asteroid belt contains at least 85,000 dormant and extinct rocky comets, reports Dr. Ignacio Ferrin, who is a recognized astronomer.

Collisions in the asteroid belt. Credits: NASA


This region of the outer space is estimated to contain at least 500,000 objects ranging from 1 m to 987 km in length - which is the size of Ceres, the smallest of the so far discovered five dwarf planets - although it is believed that several million more remain undiscovered.

Additionally, astronomers discovered a new type of comet-like bodies they have dubbed “Lazarus comets”, so-called because they seem to have risen from the dead. “Some of these objects are actually dormant comets rather than extinct asteroids”, said Dr. Ferrin.

Comets become extinct when they have expelled most of their water content. However, dormant comets may become active by increased solar energy. This will happen if the comet’s perihelion distance is reduced due to planetary perturbations that can move comets into new orbits bringing them closer to the Sun.

When heated by the Sun, the comet’s water content starts to sublimate, then dormant comets become rejuvenated and activated as long as their energy lasts.

The newly discovered asteroid belt, which may have originated many millions of years ago, is home to some of the so-called short-period comets with orbital periods less than 9,5 years.

While conducting research on the remnants of the formation of the solar system in the asteroid belt, the astronomers found that many of the presumed asteroids were actually dormant comets.


Current main belt, old paradigm. In the old paradigm, there was no cometary activity in the main belt of asteroids. Middle: Current main belt, new paradigm. In the new paradigm there is some residual cometary activity in the main belt. Bottom: Ancient main belt, new paradigm. The present study clarifies the situation in the main belt. There was vigorous cometary activity in ancient times, but that activity has decayed to residual activity after the population aged. Consequently, the main belt must contain a graveyard of comets.


The discovery was made possible by recent findings about comets that appear to have anomalously low activity. However, several were discarded since their surface showed clear evidence of recent impacts, which accounts for the lack of sublimation.

Astronomers estimate that 17 percent of the asteroid belt’s population consists of extinct or dormant comets.

Although the asteroid belt is littered with celestial bodies, NASA estimates that the distances between these objects range from one to three million kilometers.

So far, only a dozen spacecraft have explored the asteroid belt. Recently, NASA’s Dawn probe visited a massive asteroid called Vesta, home to the tallest mountain ever discovered in the solar system (22 km).

Dawn’s new target is the dwarf planet Ceres, which Dawn is expected to reach in early 2015.

The study will be published in the upcoming issue of Monthly Notices of the Royal Academic Society.

MessageToEagle.com

See also:
Intriguing Object With Previously Unknown Waveform Discovered

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