Jupiter (Photo Credit: NASA)
Jupiter is the solar system’s largest planet and everyone knows about it. You might not be knowing that Jupiter had a head-on collision with a still-forming planet in the early solar system, about 4.5 billion years ago. Well, it may be true. According to the study in the journal Nature, Jupiter may have had a violent collision with an embryonic planet 10 times Earth’s mass not long after being formed, a monumental crash with apparent lasting effects on the Jovian core.
Hypothesised by astronomers from Rice University and China's Sun Yat-sen University, they say that the violent collision may have occurred just several million years after the birth of the sun roughly 4.5 billion years ago following the dispersal of the primordial disk of dust and gas that gave rise to solar system.
Astronomer Andrea Isella of Rice University in Houston said, “We believe that impacts, and in particular giant impacts, might have been rather common during the infancy of the solar system. For example, we believe that our moon formed after such an event. However, the impact that we postulate for Jupiter is a real monster.”
She further said, "This is puzzling". "It suggests that something happened that stirred up the core, and that's where the giant impact comes into play," Andrea Isella added.
Isella further stated that leading theories of planet formation suggest Jupiter began as a dense, rocky or icy planet that later gathered its thick atmosphere from the primordial disk of gas and dust that birthed our sun.
Notably, if the still-forming planet had plunged into and was consumed by Jupiter. It is worth mentioning here that Jupiter, a planet covered in thick red, brown, yellow and white clouds, boasts a diameter of about 89,000 miles (143,000 km).
“Juno measures Jupiter’s gravity field to an extraordinary precision. Scientists use that information to infer Jupiter’s composition and interior structures,” said Shang-Fei Liu, associate professor of astronomy at Sun Yat-sen University in Zhuhai, China, and lead author of the research published in the journal Nature.
“Computer models indicated that a head-on collision with a protoplanet - a planet in its formative stages - of roughly 10 Earth masses would have broken apart Jupiter’s dense core and mixed light and heavy elements, explaining Juno’s findings,” Shang-Fei Liu said.
“This protoplanet, with a composition similar to Jupiter’s primordial core, may have been slightly less massive than the solar system’s most distant ice giant planets Uranus and Neptune and would have become a full-fledged gas giant if it had not been swallowed by Jupiter,” Liu added.
Importantly, Jupiter already would have been fully formed at the time, with its strong gravitational pull perhaps precipitating the collision. Jupiter’s mass is about 320 times that of Earth.
Liu further noted that tens of thousands of computer simulations indicated at least a 40% chance that Jupiter was hit by a protoplanet early in its history, with this impact scenario offering “by far the best explanation” for the nature of Jupiter’s core.