Although Jupiter is the largest planet in the solar system, little is known about its inner workings. Telescopes have captured thousands of images of swirling clouds in the gas giant’s upper atmosphere, but these Van Gogh-style storms also act as a barrier to our view below. “Jupiter was one of the first planets to form, about 4.5 billion years ago in the first few million years of the solar system’s formation,” lead researcher Amira Miguel, an astrophysicist at Leiden University in the Netherlands, told Live Science. year.
In a new study, researchers have finally been able to peer into Jupiter’s obscuring clouds using gravitational data collected by NASA’s Juno space probe. The data allowed the team to map the rocky material at the giant planet’s core, which displayed surprisingly high levels of heavy elements. These chemistries suggest that Jupiter devoured the asteroid to fuel its expansive growth.
Jupiter may be primarily a spinning ball of gas today, but its life began by adding rocky matter, just like other planets in the solar system. As the planet’s gravity pulls more and more rock in, the rocky core becomes so dense that it begins to attract vast amounts of gas, mostly hydrogen and helium left over from the birth of the sun, from far away to form its Huge gas-filled atmosphere.
There are two competing theories about how Jupiter managed to gather its initial rocky material. One theory is that Jupiter accumulated billions of smaller space rocks, which astronomers call pebbles. The opposing theory is backed up by new findings that Jupiter’s core was formed from many planetary fragments, absorbed by large space rocks spanning miles across, which, if left undisturbed, have the potential to become seeds that could develop into something like Earth or Mars. Smaller rocky planet.
However, until now, it has not been possible to definitively say which of these theories is correct. Because we can’t directly observe how Jupiter formed, we had to piece the pieces together with the information we have today, which isn’t an easy task. The researchers built a computer model of Jupiter’s interior by combining data largely collected by Juno, along with some data from its predecessor, Galileo.
These probes measured Jupiter’s gravitational field at various points in Jupiter’s orbit. The data show that Jupiter’s accreted rocky material has high concentrations of heavy elements that form dense solids and thus have a stronger gravitational pull than the gaseous atmosphere. The data allowed the team to map out slight changes in the planet’s gravity, which helped them see where the rocky material was located in the planet.
Juno provides very precise gravitational data that helps us constrain the distribution of matter inside Jupiter. The researchers’ models show that Jupiter contains 11 to 30 Earth-mass equivalents of heavy elements (3 to 9 percent of Jupiter’s mass), which is a lot more than expected. The researchers believe that the simultaneous accretion of rocky material and gas is the only explanation for Jupiter’s high levels of heavy elements.