A new paper published in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) proposes a theory in which an early version of the Solar System had a number of planets deemed ”Super Earths” close to the Sun, but that gravitational influence from giants such as Jupiter and Saturn were responsible for their ultimate destruction.
The research, authored by California-based researchers Konstantin Batygin and Greg Laughlin, ultimately aims to put the Solar System in a broader context of other planetary systems, and also explain some of the major differences it poses in relation to most them.
For example, most known planetary systems have a number of “Super Earths”, a category of planets with sizes between those of the Earth and Neptune, which are lacking in ours. The paper’s authors suggest that the solution to this can be tracked down to an early stage of the Solar System, when Jupiter’s orbit had it closing in on the Sun.
“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” stated Batygin, research within the California Institute of Technology.
The Grand Tack theory, forwarded mostly since the start of the millennium, implies that the largest planet in our Solar System, Jupiter, used to have an orbit way closer to the Sun in its early days than the one today, being in danger of crashing into the Sun at one point. It then changed its course after the formation of Saturn, with the two giants starting to influence each other gravitationally.
Batygin and Laughlin ran computer simulations based on this theory, while also adding Super-Earth planets to it based on their average distance to their own suns in other planetary systems. They found out that Jupiter’s gravity would have been enough to influence the course of such planets, and send them crashing into each other before being pushed into the sun.
The debris that remained from such collisions that wasn’t sent into the Sun would then be the basis for the formation of the current planetary bodies of the Solar System, including Earth.
Image Source: Skymania