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A. Morbidelli (CNRS, Observatory of Nice, France)
The existence of chaotic regions in the main asteroid belt, related with the lowest-order mean-motion and secular resonances, has long been known. However, only in the last decade have semi-analytic theories allowed a proper understanding of the chaotic behavior observed in numerical simulations which accurately incorporate the entire planetary system. The most spectacular result has been the discovery that the asteroids in some of these resonance may collide with the Sun on typical time scales of a few million year, their eccentricities being pumped to unity during their chaotic evolution.
But the asteroid belt is not simply divided into violent chaotic zones and regular regions. It has been shown that the belt is criss-crossed by a large number of high-order mean-motion resonances with Jupiter or Mars, as well as by `three-body resonances' with Jupiter and Saturn. All these weak resonances cause the slow chaotic drift of the `proper' eccentricities and inclinations. The traces left by this evolution are visible, for example, in the structure of the Eos and Themis asteroid families. Weak chaos may also explain the anomalous dispersion of the eccentricities and inclinations observed in the Flora ``clan." Moreover, due to slow increases in their eccentricities, many asteroids start to cross the orbit of Mars, over a wide range of semimajor axes.
The improved knowledge of the asteroid belt's chaotic structure provides, for the first time, an opportunity to build detailed quantitative models of the origin and the orbital distribution of Near-Earth Asteroids and meteorites. In turn, these models seem to imply that the semimajor axes of main-belt asteroids must also slowly evolve with time. For asteroids larger than about 20 km this is due mainly to encounters with Ceres, Pallas, and Vesta, while for smaller bodies the so-called Yarkovsky effect should dominate.
Everything moves chaotically in the asteroid belt.