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Understanding the Origin of our Solar System |

Simulations boost the significance of image and measurement data from space missions: based on the example of an asteroid, Bernese astrophysicist Martin Jutzi shows how collisions with other celestial bodies can be reconstructed and that even the internal structure of so- called protoplanets can be described. These models help to understand the development of our solar system. The study appears as today’s cover story in the journal Nature.

Four and a half billion years ago, dust particles in a giant, dusty gas cloud combined to form increas- ingly large clumps. These collided, aggregated and thus grew into planets. Between the planetary or- bits of Mars and Jupiter, however, hundreds of thousands of smaller fragments remained. They formed the so-called asteroid belt and hardly changed their composition since then. Asteroids thus contain an inestimable amount of information on the origin of our solar system. In research, particular attention is paid to an asteroid called Vesta: with a diameter of around 500 kilometres, it is one of the three largest asteroids and considered to be a protoplanet. Moreover, it is the only known asteroid to have an earth-like structure – with a core, mantle and crust.

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