AUG 28, 2018 7:00 PM PDT

Jupiter's Formation Wasn't Smooth Sailing, Study Suggests

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

Jupiter is the largest known planet in the entire solar system, and planetary scientists have been debating about how it formed for as long as we can remember. But new research published this week in the journal Nature Astronomy may offer some of the best insight yet.

Jupiter's formation wasn't the smoothest. The planet saw lots of interruptions that delayed formation by quite a bit.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/GeraldEichstaedt/Sean Doran

According to the paper, which describes Jupiter’s formation in multiple phases, a series of disturbances caused by kilometer-sized planetesimal impacts delayed the planet’s eventual formation by up to two million years.

“During the first stage, the pebbles brought the mass,” said Yann Alibert, the paper’s lead author. “In the second phase, the planetesimals also added a bit of mass, but what is more important, they brought energy.”

Related: Check out the light shows being emitted by Jupiter's poles

During its infantile stages, Jupiter had a great start. It began accreting an innumerable amount of smaller pebbles to create a larger planetary core. From then on, Jupiter should have had the mass required for rapid gas accretion, but the kilometer-sized planetesimals soon arrived to spoil the fun.

While it only took around one million years for Jupiter to develop a core equivalent to 20 Earth masses, this pace wouldn’t last long. The excess heat and energy produced by the planetesimal impacts prolonged the accretion process, preventing Jupiter’s core from realizing 50 Earth masses for another two million years after the impacts.

"We were very puzzled, since from our experience it looked impossible that a core of 20 Earth masses could accrete gas at such a slow rate as suggested," Alibert said.

Related: Juno shows that Jupiter's massive atmospheric storms run deep

But with so much heat and energy resulting from the planetesimal impacts, Jupiter’s core didn’t undergo the necessary cooling and contraction stages until much later, which explains the delay in accreting gas.

"The ability to accrete gas does not depend only on the gravity, but also on how much the atmosphere is able to cool and contract," added Julia Venturini, a co-author of the paper.

If Jupiter’s core never encountered these planetesimals and the consequential heat, then the planet may have been able to accrete gas more quickly than it did.

While the research provides some fascinating insight into the matter concerning Jupiter’s formation, the result is still just another theory. With so many opinions on the table already, it will likely be a topic of debate like others before it.

Jupiter’s formation remains a significant mystery because no one was around to witness it, but there is a seemingly endless trail of clues floating around in the solar system can help tell its story.

It should be interesting to see whether future studies conform to this idea or refute it. But only time will tell…

Source: University of Zurich, Nature Astronomy

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
OCT 16, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
The "Missing" Laureate at 2020 Physics Nobel
OCT 16, 2020
The "Missing" Laureate at 2020 Physics Nobel
Last week, the science community celebrated the awarding of this year's Nobel Physics Prize to a trio of black hole ...
NOV 07, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Scientists Discover Planet with Atmosphere of Vaporized Rock
NOV 07, 2020
Scientists Discover Planet with Atmosphere of Vaporized Rock
Researchers have identified an exoplanet that appears to have an atmosphere composed of vaporized rock and oceans runnin ...
NOV 20, 2020
Space & Astronomy
The Universe is Getting Hotter, not Cooler, as it Expands
NOV 20, 2020
The Universe is Getting Hotter, not Cooler, as it Expands
Up until now, scientists have theorized that as the Universe expands, its temperature has gradually declined. New resear ...
NOV 24, 2020
Earth & The Environment
Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich will extend sea level monitoring
NOV 24, 2020
Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich will extend sea level monitoring
Days ago, a new satellite was launched from Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California with the ...
APR 12, 2021
Space & Astronomy
5,200 Tons of Space Dust Fall to Earth Each Year
APR 12, 2021
5,200 Tons of Space Dust Fall to Earth Each Year
An international team of scientists has found that each year, 5,200 tons of dust falls from space to Earth. This far out ...
APR 21, 2021
Space & Astronomy
Earth-like Planet Discovered Orbiting Red Dwarf Star
APR 21, 2021
Earth-like Planet Discovered Orbiting Red Dwarf Star
Researchers from Spain have discovered an Earth-like planet orbiting the star, GJ-740, a red dwarf star located 36 light ...
Loading Comments...