Scientists surprised by “complex organic matter” objects in the asteroid belt



An unexpected discovery could help us understand where life on Earth comes from.

Red rocks

A team of astronomers have spotted two mysterious objects in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter that appear to be loaded with organic matter, possibly including the building blocks of life on Earth, The New York Times reports.

The two rocks, nicknamed 203 Pompeja and 269 Justitia, have appeared glowing in astronomical observations, much redder than any other known object in the asteroid belt. Objects devoid of organic matter reflect much more blue light, but those with more organic matter appear red in observations.

The two asteroids, 70 and 35 miles in diameter, could offer us clues to the chaotic first days of our solar system billions of years ago – not to mention a sign that our cosmic quarter is still teeming with amazing discoveries.

Orbital dance

The fact that the two asteroids appeared so red surprised the international team of researchers.

“To have this organic material, you must first have a lot of ice on the surface,” Michaël Marsset of MIT, co-author of a research article published in the Letters from the astrophysical journal this week, told the NYT. “So they had to train in a very cold environment. Then, solar irradiation of the ice creates these complex organic compounds.

If confirmed, both objects could provide evidence for the planetary migration that occurred during the early stages of our solar system. A widespread theory suggests that Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune moved outward while Jupiter moved inward over hundreds of millions of years. This movement would send pieces of remaining planets throughout the solar system.

“This is an exciting discovery with implications for the origins of life,” Karin Öberg of Harvard University, who was not involved in the new study, told the journal.

But before we can determine once and for all where 203 Pompeja and 269 Justitia came from, we’ll have to take a look for ourselves.

READ MORE: 2 red objects were found in the asteroid belt. They shouldn’t be there. [The New York Times]

Learn more about the asteroid belt: Is the asteroid belt what remains of an obliterated planet?

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