All hell broke loose less than a billion years after solar system formation

October 4th, 2008 - 1:45 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Oct 5 (ANI): A two-year search to find the Kuiper Belts smallest objects, located in the outer solar system, has returned empty handed, bolstering theories that all hell broke loose in the solar system just a few hundred million years after it formed.

According to a report in New Scientist, the search in question, the Taiwanese-American Occultation Survey (TAOS), spent two years periodically photographing portions of the sky to look for small chunks of rock and ice orbiting beyond Neptune, in a region of the solar system called the Kuiper Belt.

The survey targeted Kuiper Belt objects (KBOs) with sizes between 2 miles (3 km) and 17 miles (28 km).

Since such objects are too small to see directly, the survey watched for stars to dim as KBOs passed in front of and occulted them.

After accumulating more than 200 hours of data watching for stellar flickers lasting a second or less, TAOS did not spot any occultations.

The smallest KBOs seen so far measure about 30 km across and were found five years ago using the Hubble Space Telescope. But only a few were seen 25 times more of the small objects had been predicted based on the size distribution of larger KBOs.

The non-discovery of the outer solar systems tiniest residents has turned up nothing, suggesting that all hell broke loose in the solar system just a few hundred million years after it formed.

The solar system began as a disc of slowly rotating dust grains and gas. When the dust grains collided, they stuck together, snowballing into ever-larger structures.

The collisions at these earliest times were gentle enough that they mostly led to sticking rather than breaking up, said Charles Alcock, director of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

This sticky process is thought to explain the distribution of medium- and large-sized KBOs.

But less than a billion years after the solar system began to form, something happened that moved a lot of these bodies around, said Alcock.

The giant outer planets moved out of their initial orbits, scattering KBOs in their wake like bowling pins.

Basically, everything sits around for 700 million years and then boom all hell breaks loose, Hal Levison of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, has previously said of the period .

After that phase of planet migration, when two objects encountered each other, they broke each other up, Alcock said. Smaller KBOs are thought to have formed during that more destructive phase of collisions, he added. (ANI)

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