Abu Dhabi, UAE: Trans-Neptunian Objects (TNOs), small objects that orbit the sun beyond Neptune, are fossils from the early days of the solar system which can tell us a lot about its formation and evolution.
A new study led by Mohamad Ali-Dib, a research scientist at the NYU Abu Dhabi Center for Astro, Particle, and Planetary Physics, reports the significant discovery that two groups of TNOs with different surface colors also have very different orbital patterns. This new information can be compared to models of the solar system to provide fresh insights into its early chemistry. Additionally, this discovery paves the way for further understanding of the formation of the Kuiper Belt itself, an area beyond Neptune comprised of icy objects, that is also the source of some comets.
In the paper, The rarity of very red TNOs in the scattered disk, published in The Astronomical Journal, the researchers explain how they studied the chemical composition of TNOs in order to understand the dynamical history of the Kuiper Belt. TNOs are either deemed "Less Red" (often referred to as Gray), or "Very Red" (often referred to as Red) based on their surface colors. By re-analyzing a 2019 data set, the researchers discovered that gray and red TNOs have vastly different orbital patterns. Through additional calculations, the researchers determined that the two groups of TNOs formed in different locations, and this led to the dichotomy in both their orbits and colors.
Many models of the solar system have been designed to show how the Kuiper Belt has evolved, but these models only study the origins of its orbital structure or colors, not both simultaneously.
"With more data, our team's work could be applied to more detailed solar system models and has the potential to reveal new insights about the solar system and how it has changed over the course of time," said Ali-Dib.
About NYU Abu Dhabi
NYU Abu Dhabi is the first comprehensive liberal arts and research campus in the Middle East to be operated abroad by a major American research university. NYU Abu Dhabi has integrated a highly selective undergraduate curriculum across the disciplines with a world center for advanced research and scholarship. The university enables its students in the sciences, engineering, social sciences, humanities, and arts to succeed in an increasingly interdependent world and advance cooperation and progress on humanity's shared challenges. NYU Abu Dhabi's high-achieving students have come from over 115 countries and speak over 115 languages. Together, NYU's campuses in New York, Abu Dhabi, and Shanghai form the backbone of a unique global university, giving faculty and students opportunities to experience varied learning environments and immersion in other cultures at one or more of the numerous study-abroad sites NYU maintains on six continents.
The Astronomical Journal