Modeling Jupiter and Saturn's possible origins

Mar 05, 2013
Modeling Jupiter and Saturn's possible origins

New theoretical modeling by Carnegie's Alan Boss provides clues to how the gas giant planets in our solar system—Jupiter and Saturn—might have formed and evolved. His work was published recently by the Astrophysical Journal.

New stars are surrounded by rotating gas disks during the early stages of their lives. Gas giant planets are thought to form in the presence of these disks.

Observations of young stars that still have these gas disks demonstrate that sun-like stars undergo periodic outbursts, lasting about 100 years, which transfer mass from the disk onto the young star, increasing its luminosity. It is thought that these short bursts of mass accretion are driven by marginal gravitational instability in the gas disk.

There are competing theories for how gas giant planets form around proto-suns. One proposes that the planets formed from slowly growing ice and rock cores, followed by rapid accretion of gas from the surrounding disk. The other theory proposes that clumps of form in , increasing in mass and density, forming a in a single step.

Boss developed highly detailed, three dimensional models demonstrating that regardless of how gas giant planets form, they should have been able to survive periodic outbursts of mass transfer from the gas disk onto the young star. One model similar to our own Solar System was stable for more than 1,000 years, while another model containing planets similar to our Jupiter and Saturn was stable for more than 3,800 years. The models showed that these planets were able to avoid being forced to migrate inward to be swallowed by the growing proto-sun, or being tossed completely out of the by close encounters with each other.

"Gas giant planets, once formed, can be hard to destroy," said Boss, "even during the energetic outbursts that experience."

Given that searches for extrasolar gas giant planets have found them to be present around about 20% of sun-like stars, this is a reassuring outcome. It suggests that our improved theoretical understanding of the formation and orbital evolution of gas giants is on the right track.

Explore further: Mysterious molecules in space

Related Stories

Making Jupiters

Aug 21, 2009

IC348 is a glowing nebula of young stars, hot gas, and cold dust seen in the direction of the constellation of Perseus. It is the nearest rich cluster of young stars to earth, being only about one thousand ...

Baby Jupiters must gain weight fast

Jan 05, 2009

The planet Jupiter gained weight in a hurry during its infancy. It had to, since the material from which it formed probably disappeared in just a few million years, according to a new study of planet formation ...

Rocky planets could have been born as gas giants

Sep 16, 2011

When NASA announced the discovery of over 1,200 new potential planets spotted by the Kepler Space Telescope, almost a quarter of them were thought to be Super-Earths. Now, new research suggests that these ...

Recommended for you

Evidence of a local hot bubble carved by a supernova

just added

I spent this past weekend backpacking in Rocky Mountain National Park, where although the snow-swept peaks and the dangerously close wildlife were staggering, the night sky stood in triumph. Without a fire, ...

Astronomers measure weight of galaxies, expansion of universe

8 hours ago

Astronomers at the University of British Columbia have collaborated with international researchers to calculate the precise mass of the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies, dispelling the notion that the two galaxies have similar ...

Mysterious molecules in space

19 hours ago

Over the vast, empty reaches of interstellar space, countless small molecules tumble quietly though the cold vacuum. Forged in the fusion furnaces of ancient stars and ejected into space when those stars ...

Comet Jacques makes a 'questionable' appearance

Jul 28, 2014

What an awesome photo! Italian amateur astronomer Rolando Ligustri nailed it earlier today using a remote telescope in New Mexico and wide-field 4-inch (106 mm) refractor. Currently the brightest comet in ...

Image: Our flocculent neighbour, the spiral galaxy M33

Jul 28, 2014

The spiral galaxy M33, also known as the Triangulum Galaxy, is one of our closest cosmic neighbours, just three million light-years away. Home to some forty billion stars, it is the third largest in the ...

User comments : 0