Jupiter shaped our early solar system

Published on: Mar 25, 2015

New information has come to light that our dear friend Jupiter used to have a drinking problem. Apparently it got trashed one night and came barreling into our early universe like a wrecking ball. Now it has a lot of moons to keep it on the right track, but wow, that would have been a sight to see.

Okay, so maybe the planet wasn't drunk, I made that part up, but it's true that this planet's arrival kicked up some serious debris before it finally settled into its current orbit. This all comes from a recently published paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Intrigued? Read on and find out how Jupiter's messy entrance helped shaped out solar system.

Ah, Come On! Who's Going to Clean Up This Mess?

As we look out into the various parts of our universe, it becomes clear that our solar system isn't like any of the other ones out there. Most of the ones we've seen have larger planets orbiting closer to the main star, not farther away. Greg Laughlin from the University of California said in a news release: "The standard issue planetary system in our galaxy seems to be a set of super-Earths with alarmingly short orbital periods. Our solar system is looking increasingly like an oddball."

And so, Greg teamed up with  Konstantin Batygin from Caltech to model out the early years of our solar system. As it turns out, Jupiter came as close as Mars is now to our sun before moving outward to its current location when Saturn was formed.

This pinball effect explains why we have low mass planets in the center, and why there aren't more planets to be found. Before Jupiter made a mess of the place, it was looking like our solar system would have been composed of super-Earths which would have been larger than Earth and smaller than Neptune.

The movement of Jupiter, according to the models they used, would have set many of these early planets on crash courses with other ones as a result of the massive planet's gravity changing their orbits. Many of these early planets would have been thrown into the sun.

The Aftermath: Jupiter's Hangover

Well, those early planets may have been given the short straw, but the debris that was left behind formed into planets like Mercury, Venus, and Earth itself. It's not exactly a common thing for this to happen, and what's more interesting is how Earth managed to avoid a fate like Mercury or Venus.

By the time our planet formed, much of the helium and hydrogen gas was gone. This exquisite timing allowed us to avoid being a gas giant or a barren rock. Talk about a close call. "Ultimately, what this means is that planets truly like Earth are intrinsically not very common," Batygin said.

I'll say, I guess Jupiter's partying days were good for something after all. In all seriousness though, this does explain why our solar system is very unique. Hopefully this happened to a few others so we're not alone in the universe.


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