Scientists find new clues about Neptune’s evolution

Credit: Angela Ramirez, University of Central Florida.

In the vastness beyond Neptune, a ring of icy debris known as the Kuiper Belt holds clues to the formation of our solar system’s outer planets and other distant objects. Among these clues are Mors-Somnus, a pair of icy asteroids, tied together by gravity.

Their study has recently offered new insights into the early days of Neptune and the mysterious trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs) that reside in the outer reaches of our solar system.

This significant discovery comes from a team of researchers at the University of Central Florida (UCF), participating in a project called Discovering the Surface Compositions of Trans-Neptunian Objects (DiSCo-TNOs).

This project, which benefits from the advanced capabilities of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), aims to analyze and understand the composition of objects beyond Neptune.

Ana Carolina de Souza Feliciano, a postdoctoral fellow, and Noemí Pinilla-Alonso, a professor at UCF, played key roles in this study.

They focused on the unique surface makeup of Mors-Somnus, a task never before accomplished. Their work could change how we see the entire region beyond Neptune, offering a window into the past.

The JWST’s powerful instruments allowed the team to examine the elemental makeup of a group of TNOs thought to be closely related. Mors-Somnus, they discovered, shares much with its neighbors, which are known as “cold classical” TNOs.

These objects, largely untouched by Neptune’s migration across the solar system, can act as natural time capsules, preserving the conditions of the early solar system.

The research suggests that binaries like Mors-Somnus, which are rare due to their separation distance, likely formed beyond 30 astronomical units from the Sun, in regions where cold-classical TNOs originate.

This finding supports the theory that such objects can inform us about Neptune’s journey to its current orbit and the broader history of the solar system’s outer edges.

De Souza Feliciano and Pinilla-Alonso’s work also sheds light on the chemical and physical properties of TNOs, providing insights into the molecular cloud that gave birth to the planets, moons, and smaller bodies of our solar system.

These molecules are key to understanding the origins of life and water on Earth.

The JWST’s unprecedented capabilities have opened new doors for studying the composition of celestial bodies in great detail, surpassing even the Hubble Space Telescope.

This advancement offers a unique opportunity to explore the formation processes of binary systems and other complex structures in the outer solar system.

For Pinilla-Alonso, the DiSCo-TNOs program is a collaborative effort, with de Souza Feliciano leading the charge on this groundbreaking research. The potential for discovery is vast, with the JWST expected to provide valuable data for decades to come.

De Souza Feliciano expresses excitement about being at the forefront of this new era of exploration made possible by the JWST. Before this powerful telescope, no instrument could capture such detailed information about distant objects in the Kuiper Belt.

This research not only enhances our understanding of the solar system’s outer regions but also inspires future scientists to uncover more secrets about our cosmic neighborhood.

The research findings can be found in Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Copyright © 2024 Knowridge Science Report. All rights reserved.