Scientists led by Sunao Hasegawa from JAXA, the Japanese space agency, reported in The Astrophysical Journal Letters on Monday that two objects spotted in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter appear to have originated beyond Neptune. The discoveries could one day provide direct evidence of the chaos that existed in the early solar system.
“If true it would be a huge deal,” says Hal Levison, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Colorado, who was not involved in the research.
Earth’s stellar neighborhood is fairly stable today. But 4 billion years ago, chaos reigned as the orbits of Jupiter and other giant planets beyond it may have shifted. The gravitational havoc caused by this planetary dance likely threw pieces of rock and ice all over the place.
“It was very dynamic,” said Karin Öberg, an expert in solar system evolution from Harvard University who was not involved in the new study.