If a new study is to be believed almost every piece of meteorite that falls onto Earth may have come from a half dozen or so minor planets that splintered apart after the birth of the solar system a few billion years ago.
The study conducted by researchers from the University of Florida has found that around 85 percent or more than 400,000 asteroids in the inner asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter is made up of the remnants of five or six ancient small planets called “planetesimals”. It is expected that the remaining 15 percent also either belonged to these five families or to members of old scattered celestial bodies formed from densely packed space dust, rocks, and other debris.
Until now, scientists believed that only about 44 percent of the inner main belt asteroids originated from five asteroid families namely Flora, Vesta, Nysa, Polana, and Eulalia. But, now, the study claims that virtually all the asteroids in the inner main belt belong to either the five main families.
“We think the inner one-third of the asteroid belt comes from about six objects,” study lead author Stanley Dermott, a theoretical astronomer at the University of Florida, Gainesville.
Dermott added that it wouldn’t be a surprise if the research team eventually traces the origins of all asteroids in the main asteroid belt to a small number of known parent bodies. He stressed that future research is required to investigate the origin of the middle and outer main belt asteroids.
The researchers are hopeful that studying the splintered asteroids and meteors can help in preventing cataclysmic events if in case huge space rocks ever head towards Earth. The study result is also expected to offer new insight into how space rocks and planets form in the solar system.
The research findings have been detailed online in the journal Nature Astronomy.