Were asteroids created by planet formation?

Asteroids may not have been the building blocks of planets, as has long been believed.

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The origin of chondrules, the tiny grains of rock that make up asteroids, may hold the key to their origins.  
Credit: Flickr/Mila Zonkova

by Matt Atherton

Asteroids could be a by-product of planet formation from the very early Solar System, and therefore weren’t involved with the building blocks of planets.

Researchers have come up with the controversial results from their latest study, using a model simulation to find the relationship between “chondrules” and the early Solar System.

Chondrules are tiny grains of solidified melted rock found in meteorites, and for years scientists have used these grains as the basis for their research into asteroids. What still remains a mystery, however, is where they came from.

“Understanding the origin of chondrules is like looking through the keyhole of a door,” says Jay Melosh, Professor of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at Perdue University.  “While we can't see all that is happening behind the door, it gives us a clear view of one part of the room and a glimpse into the very beginnings of our solar system.”

The team proposed an idea as to how chondrules are created. They believe that a process called ‘jetting’ is responsible for their creation, whereby small amounts of debris are ejected at high speeds from planets in the very early stages of a planetary collision. The high pressure created by colliding objects coming together intensely heats the material caught between them, melting rocks and creating droplets in the ejected debris, which could eventually become chondrules.

The research from Purdue University may not sit too well with other researchers in the same field, however. “Chondrule-bearing meteorites have long been thought to be similar to the building blocks of planets,” says Professor David Minton of Purdue University. “This study suggests that instead chondrules might actually be byproducts of impacts between objects of an earlier generation, and meteorites may not be representative of the material that made planets.”


 

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