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Massive planet could have collapsed in young Jupiter



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.

  This undated image depicts an artistic depiction of NASA's Juno spacecraft traveling across Jupiter. (NASA via AP)

This undated image shows an artist rendering of the NASA spacecraft Juno, which makes a narrow pass over Jupiter. (NASA via AP)

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."

  This NASA composite image, derived from data collected by the Juno spacecraft in Jupiter orbit, shows the Central Hurricane at the North Pole of the planet and the eight hurricanes that surround it. (NASA / JPL-Caltech / SwRI / ASI / INAF / JIRAM via AP)

This NASA composite image, derived from data collected by the Juno spacecraft in Jupiter's orbit, depicts the central cyclone at the North Pole and at the north pole of the planet eight cyclones that surround it. (NASA / JPL-Caltech / SwRI / ASI / INAF / JIRAM via AP)

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."

  This image, published by NASA on July 10, 2016, was made by the Juno spacecraft for five days recorded after it arrived at Jupiter. The picture shows Jupiter's Great Red Spot and three of its four largest moons. (Juno / NASA / JPL-Caltech / SwRI / MSSS via AP)

This image, published by NASA on July 10, 2016, was taken by the Juno spacecraft five days after it arrived on Jupiter. The picture shows Jupiter's Great Red Spot and three of its four largest moons. (Juno / NASA / JPL-Caltech / SwRI / MSSS via AP)

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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Words in this story

diluted adj. Weakened by the interference of something else

Kern n. the center or the most important part of something

Calculation n. a mathematical estimate of something

impact n. the force with which one meets the other

postulate v. to suggest or accept that a theory or idea is true


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