Jupiter Bumped Giant Planet Out Of Solar System

First Posted: Oct 29, 2015 11:15 AM EDT

Jupiter may be responsible for bumping another giant planet from the solar system 4 billion years ago, according to astrophysicists at the University of Toronto.

"Our evidence points to Jupiter," said Ryan Cloutier, the lead author of the study and a Ph.D. candidate at the university's Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, according to a news release.

The researchers claimed that in addition to known planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, there was a fifth gas planet, but researchers are puzzled about the gas planet's disappearance from the solar system. Over the course of many years, scientists assumed that the perpetrator was either Saturn or Jupiter.

Planet ejections are a result of close planetary encounters, where one of the objects accelerates to the point that it breaks away from the massive gravitational pull of the sun. 

This team of researchers focused on violent encounters that giant planets have on minor bodies, like known moons of the planets and their orbits, since researchers in previous studies did not take this into consideration. Cloutier and his team developed computer simulations based on the modern activities of Callisto and lapetus, the regular moons that orbit Jupiter and Saturn.

The researchers measured the current orbit of each gas giant, in the event that the host planet was responsible for ejecting the hypothetical planet, which would result in significant disturbance to each moon's original orbit, according to the researchers.

"Ultimately, we found that Jupiter is capable of ejecting the fifth giant planet while retaining a moon with the orbit of Callisto," said Cloutier. "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."

This study was published in The Astrophysical Journal.

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