18 July 2024
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Age of ‘Baby’ Asteroid: Insights into Selam’s Youth

In a recent study conducted by a research team led by Cornell University, the age of an asteroid known as “Lucy’s baby” has been estimated to be just 2-3 million years old. This asteroid, named Selam, was discovered by a NASA spacecraft in November and is orbiting another asteroid in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The team used innovative statistical calculations based on the dynamics of the asteroid pair to determine its age, providing valuable insights into the formation and evolution of this young celestial body.

The Importance of Age Determination in Asteroids

Understanding the age of asteroids is crucial for gaining insights into their formation processes and evolutionary history. By determining the age of Selam, researchers can draw comparisons with other asteroid systems and gain a broader understanding of how binary systems like Dinkinesh-Selam are created and evolve over time. The youthfulness of Selam, compared to the age of the solar system, indicates that it formed relatively recently, shedding light on the continuous creation of binary systems in our cosmic neighborhood.

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The Novel Statistical Calculations

The research team employed a novel approach to estimate the age of Selam, focusing on the dynamics of the asteroid pair rather than traditional methods such as analyzing surface craters. This new method offers several advantages, including not requiring a costly spacecraft for close-up imaging, potentially providing more accurate results in cases where asteroid surfaces have experienced recent changes, and being applicable to a wide range of other binary systems in the solar system.

By utilizing equations that account for the unique characteristics of binary asteroids and incorporating data publicly shared by NASA’s Lucy mission, the researchers conducted approximately 1 million calculations with varying parameters to determine Selam’s age. The results indicated a median age of 3 million years, with 2 million being the most likely estimate. This innovative approach enhances our ability to accurately date asteroids and gain a deeper understanding of their individual histories.

The Significance of the Age Estimate

The calculated age of Selam not only provides valuable information about this specific asteroid but also contributes to our broader understanding of binary systems in the solar system. By comparing Selam’s age with that of other systems like Didymos and Dimorphos, which are even younger, researchers can piece together a timeline of how these binary systems form and evolve. Additionally, the research team aims to apply their novel aging method to other well-characterized binary systems to further refine our knowledge of their ages and dynamics.

The youthfulness of Selam, being younger than the human-ancestor fossil from Earth after which it is named, highlights the dynamic and ever-changing nature of asteroids and celestial bodies in our cosmic neighborhood. The continuous creation of binary systems and the equilibrium reached between gravitational forces and solar radiation in these systems offer a glimpse into the intricate dance of cosmic objects in the vastness of space.

Future Implications and Research Directions

Moving forward, the research team plans to expand their aging method to other binary systems and apply it in conjunction with traditional crater counting techniques to enhance the accuracy of age estimates. By utilizing multiple methods that converge on consistent results, researchers can increase confidence in the accuracy of their age determinations and gain a more comprehensive understanding of the dynamics and evolution of binary asteroid systems.

The findings from this study not only shed light on the age of ‘baby’ asteroid Selam but also pave the way for further investigations into the formation and evolution of binary systems in the solar system. By combining innovative statistical calculations with existing methods, researchers are unlocking new insights into the origins of celestial bodies and the intricate processes that shape our cosmic neighborhood.

Links to additional Resources:

1. NASA 2. Space.com 3. ScienceDirect

Related Wikipedia Articles

Topics: Asteroids, Binary asteroids, Age determination in celestial bodies

An asteroid is a minor planet—an object that is neither a true planet nor an identified comet— that orbits within the inner Solar System. They are rocky, metallic, or icy bodies with no atmosphere, classified as C-type (carbonaceous), M-type (metallic), or S-type (silicaceous). The size and shape of asteroids vary...
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Binary asteroid
A binary asteroid is a system of two asteroids orbiting their common barycenter. The binary nature of 243 Ida was discovered when the Galileo spacecraft flew by the asteroid in 1993. Since then numerous binary asteroids and several triple asteroids have been detected. The mass ratio of the two components...
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Celestial navigation
Celestial navigation, also known as astronavigation, is the practice of position fixing using stars and other celestial bodies that enables a navigator to accurately determine their actual current physical position in space or on the surface of the Earth without relying solely on estimated positional calculations, commonly known as dead...
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