Distant ‘space snowman’ unlocks mystery of how some dormant deep space objects become ‘ice bombs’ | Science & Technology

A new study is shaking up what scientists thought they knew about distant objects in the far reaches of the solar system, starting with an object called the space snowman.

Researchers from Brown University and the SETI Institute found that the double-lobed object, which is officially named Kuiper Belt Object 486958 Arrokoth and resembles a snowman, may have ancient ices stored deep within it from when the object first formed billions of years ago. But that’s just the beginning of their findings.

Using a new model they developed to study how comets evolve, the researchers suggest this feat of perseverance isn’t unique to Arrokoth but that many objects from the Kuiper Belt — which lies at the outermost regions of the solar system and dates back to the early formation of the solar system around 4.6 billion years ago — may also contain the ancient ices they formed with.

“We’ve shown here in our work, with a rather simple mathematical model, that you can keep these primitive ices locked deep within the interiors of these objects for really long times,” said Sam Birch, a planetary scientist at Brown and one of the paper’s co-authors. “Most of our community had thought that these ices should be long lost, but we think now that may not be the case.”

Birch describes the work in the journal Icarus with co-author Orkan Umurhan, a senior research scientist at the SETI Institute.

Until now, scientists had a hard time figuring out what happens to ices on these space rocks over time. The study challenges widely used thermal evolutionary models that have failed to account for the longevity of ices that are as temperature sensitive as carbon monoxide. The model the researchers created for the study accounts for this change and suggests that the highly volatile ices in these objects stick around much longer than was previously thought.

“We are basically saying that Arrokoth is so super cold that for more ice to sublimate — or go directly from solid to a gas, skipping the…

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