- News Home
17 April 2014 12:48 pm ,
Vol. 344 ,
Officials last week revealed that the U.S. contribution to ITER could cost $3.9 billion by 2034—roughly four times the...
An experimental hepatitis B drug that looked safe in animal trials tragically killed five of 15 patients in 1993. Now,...
Using the two high-quality genomes that exist for Neandertals and Denisovans, researchers find clues to gene activity...
A new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that humanity has done little to slow...
Astronomers have discovered an Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone of a red dwarf—a star cooler than the sun—500...
Three years ago, Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University proposed that a warming Arctic was altering the behavior of the...
- 17 April 2014 12:48 pm , Vol. 344 , #6181
- About Us
Jupiter's Icy Admirers
1 February 2006 (All day)
Longer than humans have watched them, the planets have traced out the same well-worn paths through our solar system. But it wasn't always so. Many astronomers think that early on, Jupiter and the other gas-giants orbited more closely to the sun. Over time, gravitational interactions caused the massive planets to migrate outward. The idea seems plausible, but there hasn't been much direct proof of it.
One of the main pieces of circumstantial evidence is found in the Kuiper belt. This region of space is chock full of comets and other lightweight, icy bodies that now lie beyond Neptune. When the gas giants migrated outward from the sun, they disturbed the Kuiper belt objects and ultimately trapped quite a few of them at the so-called Trojan points in Jupiter's orbit, where the planet's gravity and the sun's gravity equalize.
New observations made by astronomer Franck Marchis at the University of California, Berkeley, and colleagues bear out this hypothesis. The team used the super-sensitive optics of the Keck telescope in Hawaii to observe the tailgaters, known as the Patroclus binary, that follow Jupiter and its Trojan points. By measuring their sizes, distance from each other, and orbital speeds, the researchers calculated their respective mass and density. The objects appear to be made of water ice and a thin layer of dust, closely resembling Kuiper belt residents, the team reports 2 February in Nature. "These bodies were supposed to be asteroids," says Marchis. "But the measurements we have show the density ... is similar to the density of comets."
The findings look solid, says astronomer David Jewitt of the University of Hawaii in Honolulu. But he cautions that the study doesn't necessarily support a particular scenario for the evolution of the solar system. Orbiting at Jupiter's distance--about 5 times farther out than Earth--the Patroclus binary could have formed in place and did not have to have "fallen in from the Kuiper belt to contain ice," he says. "Density is not destiny."