Research ArticleASTRONOMY

Inner solar system material discovered in the Oort cloud

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Science Advances  29 Apr 2016:
Vol. 2, no. 4, e1600038
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1600038

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We have observed C/2014 S3 (PANSTARRS), a recently discovered object on a cometary orbit coming from the Oort cloud that is physically similar to an inner main belt rocky S-type asteroid. Recent dynamical models successfully reproduce the key characteristics of our current solar system; some of these models require significant migration of the giant planets, whereas others do not. These models provide different predictions on the presence of rocky material expelled from the inner solar system in the Oort cloud. C/2014 S3 could be the key to verifying these predictions of the migration-based dynamical models. Furthermore, this object displays a very faint, weak level of comet-like activity, five to six orders of magnitude less than that of typical ice-rich comets on similar Orbits coming from the Oort cloud. For the nearly tailless appearance, we are calling C/2014 S3 a Manx object. Various arguments convince us that this activity is produced by sublimation of volatile ice, that is, normal cometary activity. The activity implies that C/2014 S3 has retained a tiny fraction of the water that is expected to be present at its formation distance in the inner solar system. We may be looking at fresh inner solar system Earth-forming material that was ejected from the inner solar system and preserved for billions of years in the Oort cloud.

  • Comets
  • asteroids
  • solar system

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