Jupiter may have a dark past as a planetary bully in the solar system, destroying any planet that entered its path.
The solar system seems vast and peaceful, but a recent study reveals that its past may have actually been quite turbulent. According to a report from the Washington Post, research published in the Astrophysical Journal suggests that Jupiter may have ruled the solar system like a playground bully billions of years ago, kicking out smaller planets as it claimed its orbital territory.
The question about whether Jupiter had booted other bodies from the solar system was first raised in 2011. Based on research of other solar systems similar to ours, scientists believe that there should have been a fifth gas giant planet, similar to Jupiter or Saturn. This glaring difference between our solar system and other ones led astronomers to dig deeper.
Researchers believe that a possible ninth planet was likely kicked out of the solar system when it crossed paths with one of the other gas giants in the solar system. The larger planet probably altered the sun’s gravitational reach, and sent the other flying off into space. The new study, led by PhD candidate from the University of Toronto, Ryan Cloutier, examines the orbital paths of Saturn’s and Jupiter’s moons to see if there was evidence of a past scuffle with another world.
“Our evidence points to Jupiter,” Cloutier said. “Ultimately, we found that Jupiter is capable of ejecting the fifth giant planet while retaining a moon with the orbit of Callisto. On the other hand, it would have been very difficult for Saturn to do so because Iapetus would have been excessively unsettled, resulting in an orbit that is difficult to reconcile with its current trajectory.”
Other studies also suggest that Jupiter was likely responsible for much of the turbulence in the early days of the solar system. The Grand Track theory suggests that Jupiter was making a beeline for the sun until it caught up with Saturn, and the interplay between the two planets’ masses pulled them back into their current places. A recent study also suggested that on its path, Jupiter destroyed an entire group of planets that orbited closer to the sun.
Jupiter’s rage wasn’t all bad, however; it likely allowed the Earth enough room to develop. A press release from the University of Toronto outlining the study’s details can be found here.