Why Jupiter’s rapid growth spurt was postponed for millions of years

Jupiter’s southern hemisphere, as photographed by NASA’s Juno spacecraft.

(Gerald Eichstädt/Seán Doran/NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS)

New research suggests that the reason why Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system, waited about two million years before the beginning of the formation, growth spurt.

A team led by a Swiss researcher discovered that the kilometer-size worlds smashed into the giant planet in that time, the generation of zones with a high energy. The bombing made it difficult for gas molecules to accrete, allowing the planet to grow more slowly.

The solar system is about 4.5 billion years old, and it is a popular theory, formation of planets says that they were formed from a rotating cloud of gas and dust around the young sun. Over time, the gas and dust clumped up in little worlds, gradually accreting to each other to form the planets. [Our solar system: A Photo Tour of the Planets]

Jupiter had a more complicated history, however. In a statement, study lead author Yann Alibert, an astrophysicist at the University of Bern in Switzerland, said: it is interesting that the smaller bodies helped Jupiter to accumulate mass, while larger bodies crashing into the planet in place added energy to the planet — not the mass.

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Alibert said Jupiter quickly grew in its first million years of the formation by the collection of up-to-centimeter-size pebbles, growing to 20 times the mass of the Earth.

However, the following 2 million years saw the planet to pick up larger, kilometer-sized small bodies, called planetesimals. Since these planetesimals were larger, they collided with the planet, with more energy and released more heat, the slowing of Jupiter’s formation. So by the time that Jupiter was 3 million years old, it was 50 times the mass of the Earth — the experience of a considerably slower growth.

After that stage, the planet has grown rapidly to its current proportions, more than 300 times the mass of the Earth, by runaway gas growth, the new study found.

The University of Bern, said this new data is prepared, with a separate set of results that another team of researchers on the basis of observations of the meteorite compositions, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last year. The older research was led by Thomas Kruijer, a researcher at the University of Münster in Germany and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

Kruijer, the team found that the meteorites studied seemed to come out of two “reservoirs” in our solar system that were separated in the inner zone of our solar system, and the outer zone, from about 1 million years after the solar system formed. The attraction of Jupiter, the researchers said, was the reason that the material of the outer solar system, where Jupiter and the gas giants live, could not cope with the inner part of the solar system, where Earth and other rocky planets in orbit around today.

The older research also suggested a delay in Jupiter’s growth, but the University of Bern team modeled the information in more detail to find out why. That same growth delay could have happened on Uranus and Neptune, but more research will be needed to confirm the hypothesis.

A paper on the basis of the new research is published today (Aug. 27) in the journal Nature Astronomy.

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