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Marauding Jupiter changed solar system

LoginRegister@indiatimesLoginRegister@indiatimes WASHINGTON: Jupiter may have swept through the early solar system like a wrecking ball, destroying any newly-formed super-Earths by driving them into the Sun, a new study has found. The findings suggest that a second generation of inner planets, including Earth and Mars, would then have formed from the depleted material that was left behind.

The study also explains why the terrestrial planets in our solar system have such relatively low masses compared to the planets orbiting other Sun-like stars. “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 ,” said Konstantin Batygin, assistant professor of planetary science at California Institute of Technology.

About half of Sun-like stars in our galactic neighbourhood have orbiting planets. In our solar system, very little lies within Mercury’s orbit; there is only a little debris but certainly no planets. That is in sharp contrast with what astronomers see in most planetary systems.

According to Batygin, Jupiter is critical to understanding how the solar system came to be. Their model incorporates `the Grand Tack scenario’, proposed by another team of as tronomers in 2011. In that scenario, Jupiter first migrated inward toward the Sun until the formation of Saturn caused it to reverse course and migrate outward to its current position.

At that time, it’s plausible that rocky planets with deep atmospheres would have been forming close to the Sun from a dense disk of gas and dust, on their way to becoming typical “super-Earths” -planets larger than Earth but smaller than Neptune. As Jupiter moved inward, however, gravitational perturbations from the giant planet would have swept the inner planets (and smaller planetesimals and asteroids) into close-knit, overlapping orbits, setting off a series of collisions that smashed all the nascent planets into pieces.

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