A new study suggests that planet Jupiter was hit a long time ago by a developing planet about ten times the size of Earth.
Scientists believe the frontal crash occurred not long after Jupiter was formed.
Scientists claim that such a violent collision could explain the conditions in the center of the planet.
A report on the study appeared in the publication Nature .
Astronomers Believe in the Collision Perhaps this happened several million years after the formation of our Sun. The solar system – consisting of the sun and eight large planets – was formed about 4.6 billion years ago.
Jupiter is huge – more than twice the size of all other planets in the solar system combined. Jupiter is a gaseous planet composed mainly of hydrogen and helium. Scientists believe that it took shape when gravity sucked in gas and dust from the solar formation.
Researchers have long tried to understand more about Jupiter. In recent years, the US space agency NASA has conducted research on the planet. The NASA spacecraft Juno, launched in 2011, uses instruments to measure the gravitational and magnetic field of the planet.
Juno has gained interesting insights into Jupiter. It was revealed that Jupiter probably has a thinned center mixed with both light and heavy materials. In the past, scientists suspected that the planet probably has a dense, solid nucleus .
In the latest study, the researchers examined data and other measurements collected by Juno. They used this information to create models to predict what the core of the planet is and how it is structured.
Their models supported the theory that a frontal collision took place between Jupiter and a developing planet. The results of the team suggest that the object that Jupiter hit was about ten times the size of the Earth. Such a crash, involving the two massive planets, could have broken Jupiter's dense core and mixed light elements with heavy ones.
Andrea Isella is an astronomer at Rice University in Texas. He helped direct the research.
Isella said in a statement that he was initially uncertain about the collision theory when the idea was presented. "It sounded very unlikely to me," he said, "like a one-in-one-trillion chance."
But Isella said he had begun to support the theory when he saw computations from another researcher. This researcher was Shang-Fei Liu, an astronomer from the Chinese Sun Yat-sen University. He said the calculations – which came from computer modeling methods – had changed his mind that the theory was "not that unlikely".
The study found that the likelihood that Jupiter would collide with a planet still to be formed was at least 40 percent for the first few million years.
Isella said that scientists had already thought of such large collisions during the development of the solar system. "We believe, for example, that our moon has formed after such an event," he told Reuters. "The impact we postulate for Jupiter however, is a real monster."
According to the theory, the developing planet – also known as the protoplanet – would have been swallowed up by Jupiter. If the collision had not occurred, the protoplanet would probably have become a massive gas planet in our solar system Solar System was still young. This could explain the structural differences between Jupiter and Saturn, they said.
I am Bryan Lynn.
Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from Reuters, Nature and Rice University. George Grow was the publisher.
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