Scientists have discovered that the interior of Jupiter contains the remains of smaller planets that were swallowed up by a gas giant as they expanded to where they are today.
The results come from the first visible scene under the cloudy outer atmosphere of the planet.
Despite being the largest planet in the solar system, Jupiter has revealed very little about its inner structure. Telescopes have taken thousands of images of rotating clouds in the atmosphere above the gas giant, but these vortex storms, like Van Gogh’s paintings, act as a barrier to our view of what lies below.
In a new study, scientists were finally able to view Jupiter’s gas overview using gravity data collected from NASA’s Juno space probe.
This data helped the team map the rock objects at the center of the giant planet, which revealed a surprisingly large number of heavier elements, suggesting that Jupiter swallows smaller planets or mini-planets (solid bodies inhabiting orbiting planetary disks). And in trash cans), to grow to its current size.
Jupiter began life with the force of gravity, which pulls rocks and gases from a great distance. It was mostly hydrogen and helium left over from the Sun’s birth, which created the largest gas-filled atmosphere.
The results of the study support the proposed theory that the center of Jupiter formed by the absorption of many small planets and large space rocks many miles long.
If left unchecked, these space rocks could evolve into rocky planets such as Earth or Mars.
“Since we can not directly observe how Jupiter formed, we need to combine the pieces with the information we have today,” Yamila Miguel, lead author of the study, told LiveScience.
“Here on Earth, we use seismic maps to study the interior of the planet using earthquakes,” Miguel explained.
But since Jupiter does not have the surface to place such devices, scientists have created computer models of Jupiter’s interior by integrating data collected by sensors in vehicles such as Juno and Galileo.
Sensors measure the planet’s gravitational field at various points around its orbit. This data helped the team to find subtle differences in the planet’s gravitational pull, which helped to locate the rock inside the planet.
“The Juno spacecraft provided very accurate gravity data, which helped control the distribution of objects inside Jupiter,” Miguel said.
Research shows that Jupiter contains 11 to 30 Earth-heavy elements (3% to 9% of Jupiter’s mass), which is higher than expected.
Jupiter only swallows smaller planets, Miguel said, showing higher concentrations of heavier elements.
New discoveries could change theories about the origin of other planets in the solar system, such as Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.
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