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Planetary Trojans – the main source of short period comets?

  • J. Horner (a1) and P. S. Lykawka (a2)

One of the key considerations when assessing the potential habitability of telluric worlds will be that of the impact regime experienced by the planet. In this work, we present a short review of our understanding of the impact regime experienced by the terrestrial planets within our own Solar system, describing the three populations of potentially hazardous objects which move on orbits that take them through the inner Solar system. Of these populations, the origins of two (the Near-Earth Asteroids and the Long-Period Comets) are well understood, with members originating in the Asteroid belt and Oort cloud, respectively. By contrast, the source of the third population, the Short-Period Comets, is still under debate. The proximate source of these objects is the Centaurs, a population of dynamically unstable objects that pass perihelion (closest approach to the Sun) between the orbits of Jupiter and Neptune. However, a variety of different origins have been suggested for the Centaur population. Here, we present evidence that at least a significant fraction of the Centaur population can be sourced from the planetary Trojan clouds, stable reservoirs of objects moving in 1:1 mean-motion resonance with the giant planets (primarily Jupiter and Neptune). Focussing on simulations of the Neptunian Trojan population, we show that an ongoing flux of objects should be leaving that region to move on orbits within the Centaur population. With conservative estimates of the flux from the Neptunian Trojan clouds, we show that their contribution to that population could be of order ~3%, while more realistic estimates suggest that the Neptune Trojans could even be the main source of fresh Centaurs. We suggest that further observational work is needed to constrain the contribution made by the Neptune Trojans to the ongoing flux of material to the inner Solar system, and believe that future studies of the habitability of exoplanetary systems should take care not to neglect the contribution of resonant objects (such as planetary Trojans) to the impact flux that could be experienced by potentially habitable worlds.

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International Journal of Astrobiology
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