In an article to be published in Astronomy & Astrophysics, two British astronomers present new numerical simulations of how planetary systems form. They find that, in the early stages of planetary formation, giant protoplanets migrate inward in lockstep into the central star.
The current picture of how planetary systems form is as follows: i) dust grains coagulate to form planetesimals of up to 1 km in diameter; ii) the runaway growth of planetesimals leads to the formation of ~100 – 1000 km-sized planetary embryos; iii) these embryos grow in an “oligarchic” manner, where a few large bodies dominate the formation process, and accrete the surrounding and much smaller planetesimals. These “oligarchs” form terrestrial planets near the central star and planetary cores of ten terrestrial masses in the giant planet region beyond 3 astronomical units (AU).
However, these theories fail to describe the formation of gas giant planets in a satisfactory way. Gravitational interaction between the gaseous protoplanetary disc and the massive planetary cores causes them to move rapidly inward over about 100,000 years in what we call the “migration” of the planet in the disc. The prediction of this rapid inward migration of giant protoplanets is a major problem, since this timescale is much shorter than the time needed for gas to accrete onto the forming giant planet. Theories predict that the giant protoplanets will merge into the central star before planets have time to form. This makes it very difficult to understand how they can form at all.
Jennifer Martin | alfa
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