Although today the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter is cold and dry, scientists have long known that warm, wet conditions, suitable to formation of some biomolecules, the building blocks of life, once prevailed.
Traces of bio-molecules found inside meteorites – which originated in the asteroid belt –could only have formed in the presence of warmth and moisture.
One theory of the origin of life proposes that some of the biomolecules that formed on asteroids may have reached the surfaces of planets, and contributed to the origin of life as we know it.
Wayne Roberge, a professor of physics within the School of Science at Rensselaer and Ray Menzel, a graduate student in physics reviewed a theory, which states that as an asteroid moves through the magnetic field of the solar system, it will experience an electric field, which will in turn push electrical currents through the asteroid, heating the asteroid in the same way that electrical currents heat the wires in a toaster.
The solar wind, and the plasma stream it produced, was not as powerful as early theorists assumed, and the researchers have corrected those calculations based on the current understanding of the young sun.
Roberge said the early theorists also incorrectly calculated the position of the electric field asteroids would have experienced. Roberge said that, in reality, an electric field would have permeated the asteroid and the space around it.
Menzel and Roberge said that based on the corrected understanding of the electric fields the asteroids would have experienced, the solar wind and plasma conditions that would have prevailed, and a mechanism known as multi-fluid magneto-hydrodynamics.
The study has been published in The Astrophysical Journal.