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A late Miocene dust shower from the break-up of an asteroid in the main belt


Throughout the history of the Solar System, Earth has been bombarded by interplanetary dust particles (IDPs), which are asteroid and comet fragments of diameter 1–1,000 µm. The IDP flux is believed to be in quasi-steady state: particles created by episodic main belt collisions or cometary fragmentation replace those removed by comminution, dynamical ejection, and planetary or solar impact. Because IDPs are rich in 3He, seafloor sediment 3He concentrations provide a unique means of probing the major events that have affected the IDP flux and its source bodies over geological timescales1,2,3,4. Here we report that collisional disruption of the >150-km-diameter asteroid that created the Veritas family 8.3 ± 0.5 Myr ago5 also produced a transient increase in the flux of interplanetary dust-derived 3He. The increase began at 8.2 ± 0.1 Myr ago, reached a maximum of 4 times pre-event levels, and dissipated over 1.5 Myr. The terrestrial IDP accretion rate was overwhelmingly dominated by Veritas family fragments during the late Miocene. No other event of this magnitude over the past 108 yr has been deduced from main belt asteroid orbits. One remarkably similar event is present in the 3He record 35 Myr ago, but its origin by comet shower1 or asteroid collision6 remains uncertain.

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Figure 1: Two periods of elevated 3 He flux, at 35 Myr ago (late Eocene) and 8 Myr ago (late Miocene), indicate intervals of enhanced accumulation rate of IDPs.
Figure 2: Concordant 3 He data from two widely separated seafloor sites support a global increase in IDP flux at 8.2 Myr ago that can be attributed to the asteroid collision that produced the Veritas family.

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Financial support for this project was provided by NASA's Planetary Geology & Geophysics program (W.F.B., D.N. and K.A.F.). Financial and travel support for D.V. was provided by the Czech Republic grant agency and NSF's COBASE program. We also thank D. Durda, A. Morbidelli, M. Sykes and S. Mukhopadhyay for several discussions, and S. Goldstein and J. Burns for comments and suggestions.Author Contributions K.A.F. measured 3He in the seafloor sediments. D.N. determined the age of the Veritas family using numerical integration methods. D.V., W.F.B. and D.N. constructed the Monte Carlo dust evolution code and analysed the results.

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Correspondence to Kenneth A. Farley.

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Supplementary Notes

This file contains detailed information on samples, methods, and age models, and tabulates and plots the complete He data set. It also presents details on the IDP production model following Veritas collision and a plot showing the time constraints on the Veritas collision based on orbital backtracking. Brief discussions of other asteroid break-up events and on possible relationships between the Late Miocene and Late Eocene 3He events are also given. (PDF 1147 kb)

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Farley, K., Vokrouhlický, D., Bottke, W. et al. A late Miocene dust shower from the break-up of an asteroid in the main belt. Nature 439, 295–297 (2006).

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