Baby Jupiters must gain weight fast

January 5, 2009,
This photograph from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the young star cluster NGC 2362. By studying it, astronomers found that gas giant planet formation happens very rapidly and efficiently, within less than 5 million years, meaning that Jupiter-like worlds experience a growth spurt in their infancy. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Currie (CfA)

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 around young stars.

Smithsonian astronomers examined the 5 million-year-old star cluster NGC 2362 with NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, which can detect the signatures of actively forming planets in infrared light. They found that all stars with the mass of the Sun or greater have lost their protoplanetary (planet-forming) disks. Only a few stars less massive than the Sun retain their protoplanetary disks. These disks provide the raw material for forming gas giants like Jupiter. Therefore, gas giants have to form in less than 5 million years or they probably won't form at all.

"Even though astronomers have detected hundreds of Jupiter-mass planets around other stars, our results suggest that such planets must form extremely fast. Whatever process is responsible for forming Jupiters has to be incredibly efficient," said lead researcher Thayne Currie of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Currie presented the team's findings at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Long Beach, Calif.

Even though nearly all gas giant-forming disks in NGC 2362 have disappeared, several stars in the cluster have "debris disks," which indicates that smaller rocky or icy bodies such as Earth, Mars, or Pluto may still be forming.

"The Earth got going sooner, but Jupiter finished first, thanks to a big growth spurt," explained co-author Scott Kenyon.

Kenyon added that while Earth took about 20 to 30 million years to reach its final mass, Jupiter was fully grown in only 2 to 3 million years.

Previous studies indicated that protoplanetary disks disappear within 10 million years. The new findings put even tighter constraints on the time available to create gas giant planets around stars of various masses.

Source: Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

Explore further: Distant galaxy group contradicts common cosmological models, simulations

Related Stories

Researchers study interstellar medium in the galaxy NGC 3665

January 29, 2018

Using ESA's Herschel telescope a team of Chinese researchers has performed analysis of the interstellar medium in the early-type galaxy NGC 3665. The study offers insights into physical properties of the matter between its ...

The three surprises of 'Oumuamua

February 5, 2018

One of the defining moments in planetary astronomy in 2017 is that this is the year we discovered the first astronomical object to enter the Solar System from interstellar space. Now known as `Oumuamua (Hawaiian for "scout"), ...

Hubble's majestic spiral in Pegasus

February 5, 2018

This NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image shows a spiral galaxy known as NGC 7331. First spotted by the prolific galaxy hunter William Herschel in 1784, NGC 7331 is located about 45 million light-years away in the constellation ...

The structure of an active galactic nucleus

January 24, 2018

The nuclei of most galaxies host supermassive black holes containing millions to billions of solar-masses of material. The immediate environments of these black holes typically include a tori of dust and gas and, as material ...

Image: Hubble's Cartwheel Galaxy

January 22, 2018

This is an image of the Cartwheel Galaxy taken with the NASA/ESA (European Space Agency) Hubble Space Telescope.

Recommended for you

Lyman-alpha emission detected around quasar J1605-0112

February 20, 2018

Using the Multi Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) instrument astronomers have discovered an extended and broad Lyman-alpha emission in the form of a nebula around the quasar J1605-0112. The finding is reported February 9 ...

'Ultramassive' black holes discovered in far-off galaxies

February 20, 2018

Thanks to data collected by NASA's Chandra X-ray telescope on galaxies up to 3.5 billion light years away from Earth, an international team of astrophysicists has detected what are likely to be the most massive black holes ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.