Recently, an international team of astronomers have identified a very early, primordial asteroid family by correlating the size of its members and how far apart they are. That family is nearly as old as the solar system itself—over four billion years.
The scientists now plan to use the same approach on other parts of the asteroid belt to dig even deeper into the early stages of our solar system.
Astronomers discovered a relatively unpopulated region of the main asteroid belt, where the few asteroids present are likely pristine relics from early in solar system history.
The team used a new search technique that also identified the oldest known asteroid family, which extends throughout the inner region of the main asteroid belt.
The main belt contains vast numbers of irregularly shaped asteroids, also known as planetesimals, orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter.
As improved telescope technology finds smaller and more distant asteroids, astronomers have identified clusters of similar-looking bodies clumped in analogous orbits. These familial objects are likely fragments of catastrophic collisions between larger asteroids eons ago.
Finding and studying asteroid families allows scientists to better understand the history of main belt asteroids.