`Jupiter swallowed planet 10 times the size of Earth`

Last Updated: Thursday, August 12, 2010 - 16:38

London: Jupiter, the biggest planet in the
solar system, might have gained its dominant position after
swallowing up a smaller planet, scientists believe.

Studies on Jupiter have revealed that the giant planet,
which is more than 120 times bigger than the Earth, has an
extremely small core that weighs just two to 10 Earth masses.

Now scientists have claimed that Jupiter`s core might
have been vaporised in huge collision with a planet up to ten
times the size of Earth, the New Scientist reported.

Researchers led by by Shu Lin Li of Peking University
in China have modelled what might have happened in the wake of
the collision. Their simulations showed that the incoming
rocky body flattened like a pancake when it hit the gas
giant`s atmosphere.

Then it barrelled into the giant`s core about half an
hour later and the energy of the collision could have
vaporised much of the core.

These vaporised heavy elements would then have mixed
with the hydrogen and helium of the gas giant`s atmosphere,
leaving only a fraction of the gas giant`s former core behind.

This could explain not only why Jupiter`s core is so
small, but also why its atmosphere is richer in heavy elements
compared with the Sun, the scientists said.

Study co-author Douglas Lin at the University of
California, Santa Cruz, said the super-Earth might have grown
into a gas giant itself one day if it had not collided with
Jupiter.

"It may very well have been on its way to becoming a
gas giant, but lost the race and got gobbled up."

Saturn has a similar overabundance of heavy elements
in its atmosphere and the scientists believe this could also
be due to impacts by rocky objects smaller than Earth that
decelerated and broke up before they could reach Saturn`s
core.

The team`s simulations suggest that this would have
left the core intact, or even added to its mass as fragments
rained down onto it.

"It`s an interesting explanation of why you might have
a variety of core masses in giant planets," said William
Hubbard of the University of Arizona in Tucson. "It`s a very
useful contribution."

According to scientists, the planets in the solar
system were created by collisions between small dwarf planets
orbiting the newborn Sun.

In the collisions the small planets melted together
and formed larger planets. The Earth and Moon are the result
of a gigantic collision between two planets the size of Mars
and Venus, they said.

PTI



First Published: Thursday, August 12, 2010 - 16:38

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