Volume 653, September 2021
|Number of page(s)||14|
|Section||Letters to the Editor|
|Published online||24 September 2021|
Letter to the Editor
A molecular wind blows out of the Kuiper belt
LESIA, Observatoire de Paris, Université PSL, CNRS, Sorbonne Université, Univ. Paris Diderot, Sorbonne Paris Cité, 5 place Jules Janssen, 92195 Meudon, France
2 Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge, Madingley Road, Cambridge CB3 0HA, UK
3 LGL-TPE, UMR 5276, CNRS, Claude Bernard Lyon 1 University, ENS Lyon, Villeurbanne Cedex, France
4 School of Physics, National University of Ireland Galway, University Road, Galway, Ireland
5 Space Science Institute, 4765 Walnut St, Suite B, Boulder, CO 80301, USA
6 LERMA, Observatoire de Paris, Université PSL, CNRS, Sorbonne Université, Univ. Paris Diderot, Sorbonne Paris Cité, 5 place Jules Janssen, 92195 Meudon, France
7 Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio, TX 78238, USA
8 The University of Texas at San Antonio, San Antonio, TX 78249, USA
Accepted: 8 September 2021
Context. In this Letter we aim to explore whether gas is also expected in the Kuiper belt (KB) in our Solar System.
Aims. To quantify the gas release in our Solar System, we use models for gas release that have been applied to extrasolar planetary systems as well as a physical model that accounts for gas released due to the progressive internal warming of large planetesimals.
Methods. We find that only bodies larger than about 4 km can still contain CO ice after 4.6 Gyr of evolution. This finding may provide a clue as to why Jupiter-family comets, thought to originate in the KB, are deficient in CO compared to Oort cloud comets. We predict that gas is still currently being produced in the KB at a rate of 2 × 10−8 M⊕ Myr−1 for CO and that this rate was orders of magnitude higher when the Sun was younger. Once released, the gas is quickly pushed out by the solar wind. Therefore, we predict a gas wind in our Solar System starting at the KB location and extending far beyond with regards to the heliosphere, with a current total CO mass of ∼2 × 10−12 M⊕ (i.e., 20 times the CO quantity that was lost by the Hale-Bopp comet during its 1997 passage) and CO density in the belt of 3 × 10−7 cm−3. We also predict the existence of a slightly more massive atomic gas wind made of carbon and oxygen (neutral and ionized), with a mass of ∼10−11 M⊕.
Results. We predict that gas is currently present in our Solar System beyond the KB and that, although it cannot be detected with current instrumentation, it could be observed in the future with an in situ mission using an instrument similar to Alice on New Horizons but with larger detectors. Our model of gas release due to slow heating may also work for exoplanetary systems and provide the first real physical mechanism for the gas observations. Lastly, our model shows that the amount of gas in the young Solar System should have been orders of magnitude greater and that it may have played an important role in, for example, planetary atmosphere formation.
Key words: Kuiper belt: general / circumstellar matter / planetary systems / solar wind / Sun: heliosphere / interplanetary medium
© Q. Kral et al. 2021
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