The uncertainty of science: Using computer models, astronomers have developed a new completely different theory to explain the existence of the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
The asteroid belt (sometimes referred to as the main asteroid belt) orbits between Mars and Jupiter. It consists of asteroids and minor planets forming a disk around the sun. It also serves as a sort of dividing line between the inner rocky planets and outer gas giants. Current theory suggests that the asteroid belt was once much more heavily populated, but the gravitational pull of Jupiter flung approximately 99 percent of its former material to other parts of the solar system or beyond. Astronomers also assumed that Jupiter’s gravity prevented the material in the belt from coalescing into larger planets. In this new effort, the researchers propose a completely different explanation of the asteroid belt’s origin—suggesting that the belt started out as an empty space and was subsequently filled by material flung from the inner and outer planets.
The new theory is interesting in that it really illustrates how little we really know about the formation of our solar system. The simple fact is that either one of these theories might be the answer, even though they propose completely opposite initial conditions. We simply do not have enough information about solar system formation in general to constrain our models and determine which of these theories is right.
Until scientists have been able to study hundreds, if not thousands, of solar systems up close, these models will be nothing more than interesting exercises in computer modeling.