Scientists: Our Solar System is weird because Jupiter smashed it up like a wrecking ball

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Mar 24, 2015

The more we learn about space, the more we realize that our Solar System is really the exception to the typical rules. Turns out we might have Jupiter to thank for our corner of the Milky Way being so distinctive.

Caltech planetary scientist Konstantin Batygin and UC Santa Cruz professor of astronomy and astrophysics Gregory Laughlin have released a set of calculations that follow the “Grand Tack” theory, which basically suggests that Jupiter came barreling through the early Solar System as it was developing and smashed up a whole lot of what was there. Luckily for us, the debris that wasn’t pulled into the sun stuck around to form Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars.

Scientists have been looking into the early formation of our Solar System because planetary systems normally have super-planets extremely close to the center star (i.e. sun), but our Solar System does not, and instead opens with a ring of smaller-ish planets farther away. Scientists have been trying to figure out why that is the case, and now they believe Jupiter could be the answer.

"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. All of this fits beautifully with other recent developments in understanding how the solar system evolved, while filling in some gaps," Batygin said in a statement. "Indeed, it appears that the solar system today is not the common representative of the galactic planetary census. Instead we are something of an outlier. But there is no reason to think that the dominant mode of planet formation throughout the galaxy should not have occurred here. It is more likely that subsequent changes have altered its original makeup."

Essentially, the theory proposes that Jupiter was pulled toward the sun after its formation, smashing up pretty much everything in its path. But when Saturn formed, it pushed Jupiter back to its current location, and that collision caused both of them to settle into a stable orbit. It also created the situation that allowed our planet to form in such a way that we could actually live on it. 

So, in the long run, Jupiter 1, cosmic chaos 0.

(Via Forbes, Gizmodo)