Tech UPTechnologyThis could have been the mysterious origin of the...

This could have been the mysterious origin of the giant Jupiter

Jupiter’s anomalous size and location in our solar system has puzzled researchers for years, as it does not fit our understanding of planetary formation. Now astronomers think they have figured out how the gas giant ended up in this unique position.

According to current models, giant planets form at the confines of a system, migrate inward, and end up very close to their star. However, this is not the case with Jupiter: a huge planet more than twice as massive as the rest of the planets in the solar system combined, but orbiting almost at the bottom of the solar system.

The new research appears to have demystified the Jupiter story. According to computer simulations, the gas giant formed four times farther away than its current location, just inside Uranus’ current orbit, and slowly spiraled inward over 700,000 years.

“This is the first time that we have evidence that Jupiter formed very far from the Sun and then migrated to its current orbit ,” said astronomer Simona Pirani of Lund University, Sweden.

The research was based on asteroids called Jupiter Trojans. These share the orbit of Jupiter; One group of Trojans orbits in front of Jupiter and the other behind it, in curved regions centered on the planet’s Lagrange points.

But there is an enigma. The group in front of Jupiter contains about 50% more asteroids than the group behind.

“Asymmetry has always been a mystery in the solar system,” says expert Anders Johansen, also from the Swedish university.

So the team ran simulations of the formation of Jupiter to find out what could have caused such a strange imbalance. They tested a variety of time frames and even an outward migration pattern, and found that the scenario resulting in the Jupiter Trojan populations seen today occurs if Jupiter began life as a planetary seed, an icy asteroid a about 18 astronomical units from the Sun, about 4.5 billion years ago.

At 2-3 million years, it would have begun to migrate towards its current position of 5.2 astronomical units. This took approximately 700,000 years.

As this spiral journey began closer and closer to the Sun, drawn by the gravitational pull of gases that persist in the solar system, the baby planet gravitationally scooped up the Trojans. This happened before the planetesimal had increased its gas; At that point, it was still enriching the rock that would collapse to form the planetary core, so it’s also likely that Jupiter’s core is made up of chunks of rock similar to those found in Trojans, astronomers point out.

Where Jupiter formed has been a problem that has puzzled planetary scientists, as it appears that gas giants cannot form near a star. Intense gravity, stellar radiation (including heat), and powerful stellar winds in tight spaces would prevent the gas from staying together long enough to bond on a planet.

So while this contradicts previous research based on the formation of Jupiter near the Sun, followed by an outward migration, it also offers a solution: aligning Jupiter with what we understand based on observations of other planetary systems.

And of course, if the scientists’ simulations are correct, asteroids could be a useful source for uncovering previously unknown information about the gas giant.

“We can learn a lot about the core and the formation of Jupiter by studying the Trojans,” Johansen said.

NASA plans to launch a probe called Lucy to study them in October 2021, so we won’t have to wait long to find out.

Referencia: Lund University. The research is funded by the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation. The research has been accepted into Astronomy & Astrophysics, and can be read on arXiv.


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