Astronomers have suspected that there was once a fifth giant planet in addition to Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Something caused that planet to vanish, however, and new evidence is pointing to Jupiter being the culprit.
A team of astrophysicists from Toronto have been working to solve the mystery of the missing planet. Their research, recently published in The Astronomical Journal reports that a collision or close encounter with another large planet could have caused the planet to be thrown out of orbit around our Sun.
The Washington Post reports that the report’s lead author, Ryan Cloutier, a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto stated that they believe that Jupiter was the planet responsible for the removal of the mystery fifth giant planet. Using the current trajectories of the moons, they were able to determine if the existing planets, specifically Jupiter and Saturn, were capable of such a feat.
Ultimately, we found that Jupiter is capable of ejecting the fifth giant planet while retaining a moon with the orbit of Callisto. On the other hand, it would have been very difficult for Saturn to do so because Iapetus would have been excessively unsettled, resulting in an orbit that is difficult to reconcile with its current trajectory.
The ejected planet was likely an ice giant like Uranus and Neptune, according to The Huffington Post. It is also possible that this ice giant had a rough trip out of the solar system. Computer simulations from August had already suggested that Neptune was hit by the planet on its way out.
The head of that Neptune study, Dr. David Nesvorny, astronomer at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, reported in August that his evidence also suggested that the planet was ejected by Jupiter. He said that understanding our own solar system can help us understand other solar systems and their relationship with us.
Developing an intimate understanding of our own solar system, especially at times long before we were even around, has important implications for our understanding of exoplanetary systems and how they compare to us.
Other recent celestial news includes a Caltech cosmologist’s possible proof of parallel universes.