The largest planet in the solar system, Jupiter, may have had a massive collision with a "still-emerging planet" about 4.5 billion years ago, according to a new study.
The study, published in Nature, suggests that the impact is likely to be behind the puzzling gravitational readings of NASA's Juno spacecraft, which noted that Jupiter's nucleus is less dense and wider than expected.
"It's puzzling," Rice astronomer and study co-author Andrea Isela said in a statement. "This suggests that something happened that broke the core and that's where the giant impact takes effect."
MYSTERIOUS ALTERNATIVE CURRENTS FOUND ON JUPITER
Isela, along with several other researchers, conducted computer simulations in an attempt to explain the puzzling nucleus and believe that the planet that struck Jupiter, which many believe formed as a rocky or ice planet and was huge, approximately 10 times larger than Earth. The so-called "planetary embryo" that Jupiter might have swallowed could have happened within the first few million years of Jupiter's formation.
"The only scenario that has resulted in a core density profile similar to what Juneau is measuring today is a planetary embryo impact, about 10 times as massive as Earth," added study lead author Shang-Fei Liu.
The team put together a video to show what the violent impact looked like.
It may have taken "many, many billions of years for the heavy material to settle back into the solid core under the circumstances suggested by the document," Isela added.
"Sounds very unlikely to me," Isela recalled, adding that "it's one in a trillion in probability. But Shang-Fei [Liu] convinced me by cutting the calculation that it was not so amazing. "
Cutting is about strength and stress.
A NASA Juneau probe has been orbiting the celestial giant since 2016, crossing over the planet's two polar regions every 53 days.
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