American astrophysicists recently presented a study suggesting that our solar system has “captured” some interstellar objects (ISOs) that have visited us in recent years.
The first interstellar object (ISO) identified by astronomers was Oumuamua, which passed through our solar system in 2017. Subsequently, the kite 2I Borisov it was the second to visit us, in August 2019. These objects were very large, which facilitated their detection. Together, they sparked a wave of research and speculation.
However, scientists believe that these are not isolated events: throughout the long history of the solar system, other ISOs have visited us. They even believe that a permanent population of interstellar objects could be hidden in areas relatively close to our planet.
Interstellar visitors roaming the Earth
According to astronomers, some of these interstellar objects can be “captured” in solar orbits, sometimes locating within the limits of the solar systemdue to the gravitational pull of our star.
But, they also consider that ISOs could be captured in near-Earth orbits, rather than solar orbits. The problem is that these visitors would not stay long enough in our cosmic environment to be able to be studied.
He study was entitled “Close encounters of the interstellar type made on the basis of numerical simulations”, its author is Diptajyoti Mukherjeea graduate student from Carnegie Mellon University, co-author of the article with Amir Siraj, Hy Trac and Avi Loeb.
In the simulations, each particle represents a possible ISO on a different trajectory from outside the solar system. They rely heavily on scattering effects, in which the Earth, Moon, Sun, and Jupiter interfere in different ways with an incoming particle, in different ways combined.
Figure illustrating some of the particle simulations in the survey. In the first scenario, the simulated system includes only the Sun and the Earth-Moon system. Their goal was to isolate the effect of giant planets. Credit: Mukherjee et al. 2023.
The research examined the efficiency of massive Jupiter in capturing ISO in near-Earth orbits compared to the Earth-Moon efficiency. The results indicate that Jupiter is 10,000 times more efficient at capturing these bodies.
Additionally, to test for survivability, the team performed orbital calculations for a subset of these captured objects over a period of up to 10 million years.
By analyzing their stability, astrophysicists have discovered that ISOs captured by Jupiter have a half-life of about 50,000 years before being ejected from our solar system. However, those captured by the Earth-Moon system have a half-life of around 130,000 years.
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On the other hand, the research indicates that searching for ISO initially in these near-Earth orbits might prove fruitless. One possibility would be that the interstellar objects hide in areas close to centaurssmall solar system bodies with unstable orbits, due to their interactions with the giant planets.
Since imaging other solar systems is quite difficult, scientists find that studying ISOs is a way to get information about other solar systems and better understand how they form or evolve.
The study says extraterrestrial interstellar objects in our orbit provide a unique opportunity “to study the formation and evolution of planetary systems, including our own.”
References: Universe today.
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