These long-dead bodies seem ephemeral and hard to count, with current classifications involving hundreds of asteroid families. But the new study suggests that going far enough back, these families could be tied together, meaning all of the asteroids in the inner belt might have originated from just a few minor planets.
The University of Florida researchers examined 200,000 asteroids in the inner asteroid belt. For those rocks not assigned families, the team found a correlation between their size and orbit – specifically, the bigger the rock, the more eccentric (oval-shaped) the orbit. The opposite held true between their size and orbital inclination – basically, the smaller the rock, the further tilted its orbit is from the flat plane that most objects orbit along.
The researchers say that these connections suggest that up to 85 percent of the asteroids in the inner belt can be attributed to five known families: Flora, Vesta, Nysa, Polana and Eulalia. The remaining 15 percent could also fall into those same categories, or a few others that are currently unknown.
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