Newfound Cosmic “Gateway” funnels small, icy objects to the inner Solar System

7 October 2019
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Beginning as small, icy bodies on the outskirts of the solar system, comets turn into spectacular streaks of light when they pass through a “gateway” near Jupiter, according to new research.

This gateway is a region of space where objects called centaurs — small, icy bodies that orbit between Jupiter and Neptune — start to nudge closer to the sun. As they do so, they heat up and become “active,” primarily releasing a dusty halo of gas — which makes these small bodies, technically, comets. “We realized there’s a nexus point in orbital space where small bodies change their orbit that we nicknamed ‘the gateway,’” said lead author Gal Sarid, a planetary scientist at the University of Central Florida.

The gateway region is like a donut that wraps around the inner solar system, containing many possible orbits within its thick ring. Sarid and his team first came up with the gateway idea after looking at a peculiar centaur named 29P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 1 or SWI. Though technically a centaur, SWI is very active, regularly releasing gases like a comet does, Sarid said.

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