It is generally thought in the world of science that near-Earth asteroids die when meeting the sun. However, a new study published in the journal Nature suggests that their deaths will usually happen when they are moving about in space before they can get to the sun.
A team of researchers studying near-Earth objects (NEOs) (including asteroids) built a model from their observations and results. Their model predicted that 10 times more NEOs in close proximity to the sun (within 15 million km) should have been observed than the actual recorded number. Why the discrepancy?
It was ultimately concluded that the missing NEOs are destroyed as they approach the sun — they die before they can hit the star.
One of the authors of the study, Robert Jedicke from the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy, explains that discovering that asteroids disintegrate when they come too close to the sun is surprising which is why they took a year to reach their deduction. It was previously theorised that the asteroids would mostly die when they would dive into our shining star.
The findings are expected to enhance the understanding of the NEO population. For instance, this could explain the disappearance of parent NEOs while their debris — meteors appearing in our sky — can still be observed. The new study suggests that while parent NEOs and their debris generally follow the same orbit, the latter are seen without the former because they have already been destroyed.