The main asteroid belt, which inhabits a relatively narrow annulus ∼2.1–3.3 au from the Sun, contains a surprising diversity of objects ranging from primitive ice–rock mixtures to igneous rocks. The standard model used to explain this assumes that most asteroids formed in situ from a primordial disk that experienced radical chemical changes within this zone1. Here we show that the violent dynamical evolution of the giant-planet orbits required by the so-called Nice model2,3,4 leads to the insertion of primitive trans-Neptunian objects into the outer belt. This result implies that the observed diversity of the asteroid belt is not a direct reflection of the intrinsic compositional variation of the proto-planetary disk. The dark captured bodies, composed of organic-rich materials, would have been more susceptible to collisional evolution than typical main-belt asteroids. Their weak nature makes them a prodigious source of micrometeorites—sufficient to explain why most are primitive in composition and are isotopically different from most macroscopic meteorites5,6.
This is a preview of subscription content
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $3.90 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Bell, J. F., Davis, D. R., Hartmann, W. K. & Gaffey, M. J. in Asteroids II (eds Binzel, R. P., Gehrels, T. & Matthews, M. S.) 921–945 (Univ. Arizona Press, 1989)
Tsiganis, K., Gomes, R. S., Morbidelli, A. & Levison, H. F. Origin of the orbital architecture of the giant planets of the Solar System. Nature 435, 459–461 (2005)
Morbidelli, A., Levison, H. F., Tsiganis, K. & Gomes, R. Chaotic capture of Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids in the early Solar System. Nature 435, 462–465 (2005)
Gomes, R. S., Levison, H. F., Morbidelli, A. & Tsiganis, K. Origin of the cataclysmic Late Heavy Bombardment period of the terrestrial planets. Nature 435, 466–469 (2005)
Matrajt, G. et al. Oxygen isotope measurements of individual unmelted Antarctic micrometeorites. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 70, 4007–4018 (2006)
Clayton, R. N. Oxygen isotopes in meteorites. Annu. Rev. Earth Planet. Sci. 21, 115–149 (1993)
Nesvorný, D. & Vokrouhlický, D. Chaotic capture of Neptune Trojans. Astron. J. 137, 5003–5011 (2009)
Levison, H. F., Morbidelli, A., Van Laerhoven, C., Gomes, R. & Tsiganis, K. Origin of the structure of the Kuiper belt during a dynamical instability in the orbits of Uranus and Neptune. Icarus 196, 258–273 (2008)
Nesvorný, D., Vokrouhlický, D. & Morbidelli, A. Capture of irregular satellites during planetary encounters. Astron. J. 133, 1962–1976 (2007)
Licandro, J., de León, J., Pinilla, N. & Serra-Ricart, M. Multi-wavelength spectral study of asteroids in cometary orbits. Adv. Space Res. 38, 1991–1994 (2006)
Tholen, D. J. & Barucci, M. A. in Asteroids II (eds Binzel, R. P., Gehrels, T. & Matthews, M. S.) 298–315 (Univ. Arizona Press, 1989)
Bus, S. J. & Binzel, R. P. Phase II of the Small Main-Belt Asteroid Spectroscopic Survey. A feature-based taxonomy. Icarus 158, 146–177 (2002)
Bottke, W. F. et al. The fossilized size distribution of the main asteroid belt. Icarus 175, 111–140 (2005)
Bottke, W. F. et al. Linking the collisional history of the main asteroid belt to its dynamical excitation and depletion. Icarus 179, 63–94 (2005)
Morbidelli, A., Bottke, W. F., Nesvorný, D. & Levison, H. F. Asteroids were born big. Icarus (submitted)
Jewitt, D. C., Trujillo, C. A. & Luu, J. X. Population and size distribution of small Jovian Trojan asteroids. Astron. J. 120, 1140–1147 (2000)
Yoshida, F. & Nakamura, T. Size distribution of faint Jovian L4 Trojan asteroids. Astron. J. 130, 2900–2911 (2005)
Szabó, G. M., Ivezić, Ž., Jurić, M. & Lupton, R. The properties of Jovian Trojan asteroids listed in SDSS Moving Object Catalogue 3. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 377, 1393–1406 (2007)
Leinhardt, Z. M. & Stewart, S. T. Full numerical simulations of catastrophic small body collisions. Icarus 199, 542–559 (2009)
Benz, W. & Asphaug, E. Catastrophic disruptions revisited. Icarus 142, 5–20 (1999)
Mothé-Diniz, T., Carvano, J. M. & Lazzaro, D. Distribution of taxonomic classes in the main belt of asteroids. Icarus 162, 10–21 (2003)
Carvano, J. M., Mothé-Diniz, T. & Lazzaro, D. Search for relations among a sample of 460 asteroids with featureless spectra. Icarus 161, 356–382 (2003)
Burbine, T. H. et al. Oxygen and asteroids. Rev. Mineral. Geochem. 68, 273–343 (2008)
Genge, M. J. Ordinary chondrite micrometeorites from the Koronis asteroids. Proc. Lunar Planet. Sci. Conf. 37, abstr. 1759 (2006)
Dermott, S. F., Durda, D. D., Grogan, K. & Kehoe, T. J. J. in Asteroids III (eds Bottke, W. F., Paolicchi, P., Binzel, R. P. & Cellino, A.) 423–442 (Univ. Arizona Press, 2002)
Morbidelli, A. & Gladman, B. Orbital and temporal distributions of meteorites originating in the asteroid belt. Meteorit. Planet. Sci. 33, 999–1016 (1998)
Bottke, W. F., Rubincam, D. P. & Burns, J. A. Dynamical evolution of main belt meteoroids: numerical simulations incorporating planetary perturbations and Yarkovsky thermal forces. Icarus 145, 301–331 (2000)
Bottke, W. F., Nesvorný, D., Grimm, R. E., Morbidelli, A. & O’Brien, D. P. Iron meteorites as remnants of planetesimals formed in the terrestrial planet region. Nature 439, 821–824 (2006)
Grimm, R. E. & McSween, H. Y. Heliocentric zoning of the asteroid belt by aluminum-26 heating. Science 259, 653–655 (1993)
Clark, B. E., Rivkin, A. S., Bus, S. J., Sanders, J. & X E, M, and P-type asteroid spectral observations. Bull. Am. Astron. Soc. 35, 955 (2003)
H.F.L., W.F.B., A.M. and D.N. are grateful to NASA’s Origins of Solar Systems and Outer Planet Research programmes. D.N. is also grateful to the US National Science Foundation’s Astronomy & Astrophysics Grants programme for funding. M.G. wishes to thank Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Programme National de Planétologie and the European Community for funding. We thank S. Stewart and Z. Leinhardt for discussions and S. Weidenschilling and A. Harris, who acted as referees.
This file contains Supplementary Notes (incorporating Figures 1-6 and Tables 1-2): (1) The Orbital Dynamics Calculations, (2) Collisional and Dynamical Depletion Evolution Model (CoDDEM) Calculations, (3) The Micrometeorite Origin Problem, (4) The Collisional Evolution of the Primordial Cometary Disk; and Supplementary References. (PDF 1644 kb)
About this article
Cite this article
Levison, H., Bottke, W., Gounelle, M. et al. Contamination of the asteroid belt by primordial trans-Neptunian objects. Nature 460, 364–366 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature08094
Space Science Reviews (2022)
Science Goals and Mission Objectives for the Future Exploration of Ice Giants Systems: A Horizon 2061 Perspective
Space Science Reviews (2021)
Experimental Astronomy (2021)
Experimental Astronomy (2021)
Space Science Reviews (2020)