A study conducted at the University of Central Florida suggests that many comets pass through a “gateway” before approaching the Sun. This study challenges previous fundamentals on how comets arrive from the periphery of the solar system and get closer to the Earth.
Gal Sarid, a scientist, along with co-authors of the study, discovered the gateway in a simulation of centaurs. Centaurs are small bodies of ice traversing orbits between Neptune and Jupiter. These icy bodies have material in their pristine form since the birth of the solar system.
In the study, the scientists modeled the evolution of bodies coming from beyond Neptune’s orbit, traversing through the region and entering Jupiter’s orbit.
Scientists have long debated the pathway comets follow from the point of their formation toward the Sun. Sarid, who is the lead scientist on this study, said that complex questions regarding the transition and evolution of the comets can now be answered with certainty.
It is hypothesized that Centaurs originate in the Kuiper Belt beyond Neptune. Comets from the Jupiter family are derived from these Centaurs and occupy the inner region of the solar system.
When these icy Centaurs or other comets approach the Sun, dust, and gas is released, which produces a fuzzy coma. These gas clouds form the extended tails and are referred to as comets.
This display is spectacular and lasts for a short while. The comet either devolves into a dormant state or gets destroyed.
The intended goal of the study was to understand the history of Centaur – 29P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 1 (SW1). SW1 is a mid-sized centaur traversing a near-circular orbit beyond Jupiter.
Maria Womack, a scientist at the Florida Space Institute, said that more than one Centaur that the team had tracked followed a similar orbital entry as SW1 at some point during their lifetime. Researchers said that this region was the primary gateway through which comets are produced.