A new study found a new description for Jupiter – the destroyer of super-Earths in early Solar system history. The results were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
According to the study, the largest planet in the Solar System could have destroyed several super-Earths at the beginning of the Solar System’s formation. This was a time when the planetary system possibly consisted of more elements than it did today. These components are the so-called super-Earths, larger than our planet but smaller compared to Neptune.
Jupiter is believed to have formed before the inner rocky planetary components such as Earth. Scientists believe that in the initial stages of the Solar System’s formation, somewhere in the first few millions of years, Jupiter acquired large amounts of gas and dust from that region. The next phase could have consisted of the planet migrating towards the Sun, carrying interplanetary material along the way and because of its trajectory and powerful gravity, it could have collided with several of these super-Earths.
Researcher Gregory Laughlin, professor and chair of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz explained that from these collisions resulted fragments which interacted between each other leading to a chain reaction.
But before Jupiter got too close to the Sun, Saturn also completed formation and begun migrating towards it. Catching up with Jupiter, “the two planets fell into an orbital resonance” and probably started migrating outwards reaching their final position.
The theory originated after astronomers observed other solar systems which they though would present the same planetary distribution as our own, meaning smaller, terrestrial planets orbiting close to the star and larger planets positioned externally. They were wrong. Other solar systems presented several super-Earths orbiting close to their sun.
According to Konstantin Batygin of the California Institute of Technology, the study might explain why our Solar System lacks these types of planets:
“Our work suggests that Jupiter’s inward-outward migration could have destroyed a first generation of planets and set the stage for the formation of the mass-depleted terrestrial planets that our solar system has today. All of this fits beautifully with other recent developments in understanding how the solar system evolved, while filling in some gaps.”
The scenario was named “The Grand Tack” and it was first proposed in 2001 by a team of by astrophysicists from the Queen Mary University.
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