Journal Article

On the formation and evolution of asteroid belts and their potential significance for life

Rebecca G. Martin and Mario Livio

in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society: Letters

Published on behalf of The Royal Astronomical Society

Volume 428, issue 1, pages L11-L15
Published in print January 2013 |
Published online October 2012 | e-ISSN: 1745-3933 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/mnrasl/sls003

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Suggestions have been made that asteroid belts may be important both for the existence of life and perhaps even for the evolution of complex life on a planet. Using numerical models for protoplanetary discs, we calculate the location of the snow line, and we propose that asteroid belts are most likely to form in its vicinity. We then show that observations of warm dust in exosolar systems, thought to be produced by collisions between asteroids in a belt, indicate that asteroid belts (when they exist) indeed coincide with the radial location and the temperature of the snow line. Giant planets form outside the snow line and prevent planet formation just inside of their orbit, creating an asteroid belt there. However, the migration of giant planets through the asteroid belt likely disperses the compact formation. We examine existing observations of giant exoplanets and find that less than 4 per cent are at radial locations outside of the snow line. This definitely may be the consequence of observational selection effects. However, with this caveat in mind, we point out that the dearth of giant planets outside the snow line may also suggest that compact asteroid belts are not common, and more speculatively that complex life may not be expected in most of the currently observed systems.

Keywords: minor planets, asteroids: general; planets and satellites: formation; protoplanetary discs

Journal Article.  3655 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Astronomy and Astrophysics

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