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Asteroid belts could spur life on earth-like planet

Posted on Nov 04, 02:48PM | IANS

The size and location of an asteroid belt, shaped by the evolution of the sun's disk and by the gravity of a Jupiter-like planet, may spur life on an Earth-like planet, says the latest astronomical research.

Although asteroids can hit the Earth and trigger mass extinction, they could also catalyse the birth and evolution of complex life, said study authors Rebecca Martin, NASA Sagan Fellow at University of Colorado, Boulder and Mario Livio from the Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore.

Asteroids may have delivered water and organic compounds to the early Earth.

The astronomers based their findings on an analysis of theoretical models and archival observations of extra solar Jupiter-sized planets, the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society reported.

"Our study shows that only a tiny fraction of planetary systems observed to date seem to have giant planets in the right location to produce an asteroid belt of the appropriate size, offering the potential for life on a nearby rocky planet," said Martin, who led the study.

Martin and Livio suggest that the location of an asteroid belt relative to a Jupiter-like planet is not an accident.

The asteroid belt in our solar system, located between Mars and Jupiter, is a region of millions of space rocks that sits near the "snow line," which marks the border of a cold region where volatile material such as water ice are far enough from the sun to remain intact.

In fact, during the solar system's infancy, the asteroid belt probably had enough material to make another Earth, but Jupiter's presence and its small migration towards the sun caused some of the material to scatter, according to a Colorado statement.

Today, the asteroid belt contains less than one percent of its original mass. Using our solar system as a model, Martin and Livio proposed that asteroid belts in other solar systems would always be located approximately at the snow line.