Troy, N.Y. A new look at the early solar system introduces an alternative to a long-taught, but largely discredited, theory that seeks to explain how biomolecules were once able to form inside of asteroids. In place of the outdated theory, researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute propose a new theory based on a richer, more accurate image of magnetic fields and solar winds in the early solar system, and a mechanism known as multi-fluid magneto-hydrodynamics to explain the ancient heating of the asteroid belt.
Although today the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter is cold and dry, scientists have long known that warm, wet conditions, suitable to formation of some biomolecules, the building blocks of life, once prevailed. Traces of bio-molecules found inside meteorites which originated in the asteroid belt could only have formed in the presence of warmth and moisture. One theory of the origin of life proposes that some of the biomolecules that formed on asteroids may have reached the surfaces of planets, and contributed to the origin of life as we know it.
"The early sun was actually dimmer than the sun today, so in terms of sunlight, the asteroid belt would have been even colder than it is now. And yet we know that some asteroids were heated to the temperature of liquid water, the 'goldilocks zone,' which enabled some of these interesting biomolecules to form," said Wayne Roberge, a professor of physics within the School of Science at Rensselaer, and member of the New York Center for Astrobiology, who co-authored a paper on the subject with Ray Menzel, a graduate student in physics. "Here's the question: How could that have happened? How could that environment have existed inside an asteroid?"
In the paper, titled "Reexamination of Induction Heating of Primitive Bodies in Protoplanetary Disks" and published today in the Astrophysical Journal, Menzel and Roberge revisit and refute one of two theories proposed decad
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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute