Jupiter's nucleus seems off, astronomers say, in a way we can explain with an ancient collision with another huge body, perhaps one-ten times the mass of Earth.
The collision at the beginning of the history of our solar system should not be a huge surprise. Ultimately, scientists suggest that the Earth's own moon is the result of a giant impact. Such an event could be the cause of some unexpected properties of Jupiter's kernel, which seems oddly low in density and at the same time high in heavy elements.
Jupiter's US mission into JNA's orbit has been able to capture the planet's gravitational field in sufficient detail to allow scientists to understand what's inside the gas giant. It seems that instead of a very dense central core with a less dense environment, the planet's core may actually be more diffuse, but with very heavy elements.
Researchers in the United States, China, Japan and Switzerland have been wondering how such a planet could appear – it contradicts most models of planetary formation, according to a document published in Nature. But there is a hypothesis that can explain the results: a giant impact in the early days of Jupiter.
The solar system was formed by a dust disk surrounding the sun, which merged into planets and other objects. During this time, a planet like Jupiter would grow rapidly and rather suddenly (in space time charts) exert a great deal of gravity on the surrounding planets. Perhaps as a result, a smaller protoplane nearby would collide with Jupiter – and indeed the researchers' models for the formation of Jupiter plus the collision predict the conditions for the formation of a planet that looks like Jupiter.
And the collision would not be a tangible blow with some mass, which Jupiter slowly swallowed, according to the newspaper; this would not generate enough shockwaves to destroy Jupiter's core. The hypothetical object should hit Jupiter's head.
This is certainly a provocative hypothesis. "We have good evidence that planetary collisions have shaped the solar system (the formation of the Earth's moon, the removal of much of the Mecurian rock, and potentially the transfer of Uranium to its country)," Jonathan Fortney, a planetary scientist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who did not participate in the study told Gizmodo in an email. "This idea is very much in the same spirit, though it is scaled enormously in size and scale. Imagine something like Uranus or Neptune plowing directly into Jupiter! "
But this is just a hypothesis. "I'm not convinced (yet) that this is the right answer to this question," Fortney said, "but we can add it to the list of interesting explanations that need to be addressed in more detail in the future." And we continue to devise scenarios is important to explain the strange interior of the planet, Jamila Miguel, an assistant professor at the Leiden Observatory in the Netherlands, told Gizmodo.
So while gorgeous smashing isn't a sure thing, it's definitely fun to think about.