Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Rocks twirl in remote two-step


This pair of asteroids is locked in a mutual orbit.
© Nature

One lump of rock is revealed as two in the distant Kuiper belt.

The stand-offish dance of two asteroids at the outer reaches of the Solar System is captivating astronomers. The two rocky objects, discovered locked in mutual orbit, could tell us about the properties of the far-flung Kuiper belt.

Christian Veillet and his team1 studied an object called 1998 WW31 in the Kuiper belt, a sparsely populated region of space beyond the orbit of Neptune. The object was previously thought to be a single rock.

One is in fact two, the team found, using images obtained by the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope in Hawaii. And the pair follow an unusual elongated, ellipse-shaped orbit which keeps them 20-40,000 km apart. This is considered a very distant partnership for a ’binary object’.

The circling pair, which complete a rotation every 570 days, might offer some vital clues to the composition of rocks in the Kuiper belt. Its extreme distance makes resident objects difficult to study.

If one of the circling bodies eclipses the other, the pair’s size could be estimated and hence their density. Understanding the composition of material in the Kuiper belt - which is thought to contain rubble left over from planet formation - might help to discriminate between different explanations for the formation of the Solar System.

Kuiper-belt binaries are hard to spot, because two small bodies can appear as a single fuzzy blob of reflected sunlight at such long distances. Even if two spots are seen, several images are needed to rule out the possibility that they are two adjacent stars along our line of sight. Veillet and his team carried out such careful analyses before they could confidently claim that 1998 WW31 is indeed a binary.

The elliptical orbit is very different from that of the best known partnership in the Kuiper belt: the outermost planet Pluto and its moon Charon. The binary systems known in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter also stick closer together than 1998 WW31.

The new discovery challenges existing theories of how two asteroid-like bodies can become bound together by their gravitational pull. Researchers are not yet clear why the two rocks have not been ripped apart by interactions with other bodies in the Kuiper belt.

  1. Veillet, C. et al The binary Kuiper-belt object 1998 WW31. Nature, 416, 711 - 713, (2002).

PHILIP BALL | © Nature News Service

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Scientists discover particles similar to Majorana fermions
25.10.2016 | Chinese Academy of Sciences Headquarters

nachricht Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves
24.10.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für Struktur und Dynamik der Materie

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Ice shelf vibrations cause unusual waves in Antarctic atmosphere

25.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

Fluorescent holography: Upending the world of biological imaging

25.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Etching Microstructures with Lasers

25.10.2016 | Process Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>