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Scientists settle a long-standing debate about the gas giant’s formation in space

Scientists settle a long-standing debate about the gas giant's formation in space

Scientists settle a long-standing debate about the gas giant’s formation in space, as they have discovered the remnants of tiny planets that were devoured by Jupiter’s clouds.

Planets can be distinguished from fixed stars by how they appear to move. This includes the moon and the sun. It is thought that planets have some effect on human affairs.

People used to pass the time by looking up in the night sky and connecting the stars. This is to make representations of animals, objects and mythical heroes which they call “constellations.” That is, before the Internet or Super Mario Kart were invented.

They also found that some stars didn’t go well with the constellations. The Ancient Greeks nicknamed these irrational specks of light “planetes,” or “wanderers.” This is because of the way they wandered throughout the night sky. Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto had all been found by 1930.

Scientists settle a long-standing debate about the gas giant’s formation in space

On the other hand, we’re focusing our attention on the planet named Jupiter. Scientists have found that Jupiter’s interior is full of pieces of baby planets that the gas giant ate as it grew into the monster we know today.

For the first time, the chemistry underlying the planet’s hazy atmosphere has been clearly seen. Even though Jupiter is the biggest planet in the solar system, it hasn’t told us much about how it works.

There are dozens of photographs of the spinning vortex clouds in the gas giant’s upper atmosphere. These have been photographed by telescopes. However, these Van Gogh-esque storms also serve as a barrier that prevents us from seeing what lies below.

When the solar system was forming 4.5 billion years ago, Jupiter was one of the first planets to appear. This is according to senior researcher Yamila Miguel, an astronomer at Leiden University in the Netherlands. We don’t know exactly how it came to be, “she continued.

Gravitational data from NASA’s Juno space mission

Researchers used gravitational data from NASA’s Juno space mission in a new study. This is to peak behind Jupiter’s thick cloud cover for the first time.

Using this information, the researchers were able to discover that heavy metals are abundant in the planet’s core. A look at Jupiter’s chemical make-up reveals it ate planetesimals to fuel its expansion.

Jupiter, like all the other planets in the solar system, started out as a pile of rocks that got stuck together.

Eventually, the planet’s dense rocky core drew in so much gas. This is mostly hydrogen and helium left over from the sun’s birth—that it formed a gigantic gas-filled atmosphere. This massive atmosphere was formed when the planet’s gravity drew in more and more rocks.

Jupiter’s origins as a stony planet are the subject of two opposing hypotheses. Astronomers refer to the smaller rocks in Jupiter’s atmosphere as “pebbles.”

Jupiter’s core was formed from enormous space rocks called planetesimals. This may have served as a seed for planets like Earth and Mars to grow from. That is, if they had been left undisturbed by other celestial bodies. This is contrary to the conclusions of the current study.

But until today, it has been impossible to determine which of the theories is accurate. We can’t see how Jupiter evolved, so we have to piece it together from what we know now, according to Miguel. “And it’s not going to be simple.”

Inquiring into the cosmos

Researchers needed to develop an image of Jupiter’s interior in order to try to settle the issue. Miguel explained that seismographs are used to research the Earth’s interior using earthquakes.

She says that this kind of equipment can’t be put on Jupiter’s surface. She doesn’t think that the core of Jupiter has a lot of tectonic activity.

Instead of relying solely on Juno’s findings, astronomers constructed computer models of Jupiter’s interior based on data from Galileo’s precursor.

At various sites around the planet’s orbit, the gravitational field was measured by the probes. The findings show that the rocky outcrops of Jupiter have a higher concentration of heavy elements. These are compared to the gaseous environment. This results in dense solids with a stronger gravitational pull than gaseous matter.

The team was able to use this information to map out the planet’s gravity.  This allowed them to discover where the planet’s rocky material was situated.

In order to better understand the composition of Jupiter’s innards, Miguel noted that Juno’s gravity measurements were crucial. The only way to get this set of information is for a spacecraft to circle the planet.

There are between 11 and 30 Earth masses of heavy elements in Jupiter. This is a lot more than predicted, according to the simulations used by the researchers.

Pebbles vs. planetesimals: Who’s the winner?

The new models suggest a planetesimal-gobbling origin for Jupiter. According to Miguel, this cannot explain the high concentration of heavy elements in Jupiter’s atmosphere.

If Jupiter had been made from pebbles instead of rocks, the rocky accretion stage would have ended before the gas accretion stage.

Miguel says that this is because the rising gas layer created a pressure barrier that stopped more stones from being pulled into the planet.

It is possible that Jupiter would have had fewer heavy metals if the time it took for rocks to stick together was shorter.

While the gas accretion phase had begun, planetesimals might have clung to Jupiter’s core because the gravitational attraction on the rocks would have been stronger than the gas pressure.

The planetesimal theory says that Jupiter’s high content of heavy elements can only be explained by the fact that rocky material and gas stuck to it at the same time.

The research also showed that the top atmosphere of Jupiter doesn’t mix well with Jupiter’s inner atmosphere. This was not what scientists had thought before.

A new model of Jupiter’s interiors reveals a high concentration of heavy metals in the planet’s core and lower atmosphere.

Convection was thought to mix Jupiter’s atmosphere, with hotter gas near the planet’s core rising to the outer atmosphere before cooling and falling back down. If this were the case, heavier elements would be more evenly distributed throughout the atmosphere. However, this was found not to be the case.

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Further studies needed

More study is needed to identify exactly what’s happening inside Jupiter’s atmosphere, but Miguel said it’s plausible that some parts of Jupiter may have a tiny convection effect.

Other planets in the solar system might possibly benefit from the discoveries of the researchers. It was “Jupiter that had the most impact in forming planetary systems,” Miguel remarked.

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She said an understanding of how it came to be has crucial consequences for other planets because of its gravitational pull. The findings also imply that Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune may have formed from planetesimals.

There may be more gaseous planets in other star systems that got started by eating planetesimals instead of pebbles. This means that they may also be more metallic than they look like they are.

According to NASA’s James Webb Telescope experts, it’s critical that when we uncover these new worlds, we don’t only evaluate them by their clouded surfaces.

Astronomy and Astrophysics magazine published the work online on June 8th.

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