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Unlocking the Secrets of Eternal Ice in the Kuiper Belt
Arrokoth as imaged by New Horizons.
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Unlocking the Secrets of Eternal Ice in the Kuiper Belt
by Clarence Oxford
Los Angeles CA (SPX) Mar 15, 2024

Innovative research published in Icarus unveils the enduring nature of volatile substances such as carbon monoxide (CO) within Kuiper Belt Object 486958 Arrokoth, offering new insights into the long-term preservation of volatile ices in the distant reaches of our solar system.

Co-authored by Dr. Samuel Birch of Brown University and Dr. Orkan Umurhan, a senior research scientist at the SETI Institute, the study "Retention of CO Ice and Gas Within 486958 Arrokoth" presents Arrokoth as a critical example, suggesting that numerous Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs)-solar system relics-may still harbor their primordial volatile ices, upending previous hypotheses about their evolutionary trajectories.

The prevalent models for KBO evolution have historically struggled to accurately forecast the destiny of volatiles within these remote, frigid bodies, often relying on overly complex simulations or erroneous assumptions that failed to grasp the substances' longevity. This breakthrough research advocates for a simpler, yet more accurate model, comparing the retention process to gas migration through porous rocks, asserting that KBOs like Arrokoth could sustain their volatile ices over eons, thereby creating a protective subsurface atmosphere that mitigates additional ice depletion.

Dr. Umurhan emphasizes the significance of their findings, stating, "We've rectified a longstanding misconception in the physical modeling of these ancient, icy objects. This revelation could spearhead a reevaluation of theories surrounding comet interiors and activity."

The implications of this study extend beyond correcting past models; it reinvigorates the narrative of KBOs as dormant "ice bombs," which upon orbital shift towards the sun, might activate and exhibit cometary behaviors. This perspective could illuminate the behavior of comets like 29P/Schwassmann-Wachmann, potentially revising our comprehension of cometary phenomena.

By participating in the upcoming CAESAR mission proposal, the research team aims to deepen our understanding of cometary evolution and activity. Their findings not only pave the way for future explorations but also highlight the lingering enigmas of our solar system, beckoning further investigation.

Research Report:Retention of CO ice and gas within 486958 Arrokoth

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