Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

New computer simulations show how special the solar system is

11.08.2008
Prevailing theoretical models attempting to explain the formation of the solar system have assumed it to be average in every way. Now a new study by Northwestern University astronomers, using recent data from the 300 exoplanets discovered orbiting other stars, turns that view on its head.

The solar system, it turns out, is pretty special indeed. The study illustrates that if early conditions had been just slightly different, very unpleasant things could have happened -- like planets being thrown into the sun or jettisoned into deep space.

Using large-scale computer simulations, the Northwestern researchers are the first to model the formation of planetary systems from beginning to end, starting with the generic disk of gas and dust that is left behind after the formation of the central star and ending with a full planetary system. Because of computing limitations, earlier models provided only brief glimpses of the process.

The researchers ran more than a hundred simulations, and the results show that the average planetary system's origin was full of violence and drama but that the formation of something like our solar system required conditions to be "just right."

The study, titled "Gas Disks to Gas Giants: Simulating the Birth of Planetary Systems," will be published in the Aug. 8 issue of the journal Science.

Before the discovery in the early 1990s of the first planets outside the solar system, our system's nine (now eight) planets were the only ones known to us. This limited the planetary formation models, and astronomers had no reason to think the solar system unusual.

"But we now know that these other planetary systems don't look like the solar system at all," said Frederic A. Rasio, a theoretical astrophysicist and professor of physics and astronomy in Northwestern's Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. He is senior author of the Science paper.

"The shapes of the exoplanets' orbits are elongated, not nice and circular. Planets are not where we expect them to be. Many giant planets similar to Jupiter, known as 'hot Jupiters,' are so close to the star they have orbits of mere days. Clearly we needed to start fresh in explaining planetary formation and this greater variety of planets we now see."

Using the wealth of exoplanet data collected during the last 15 years, Rasio and his colleagues have been working to understand planet formation in a much broader sense than was possible previously. Modeling an entire planetary system -- the varied physical phenomena associated with gas, gravity and grains of material, on such a variety of scales -- was a daunting challenge.

The work required very powerful computers. The researchers also had to judiciously decide what information was important and what was not, so as to speed up the calculations. They decided to follow the growth of planets, the gravitational interaction between planets, and the whole planetary system in its entire spatial extent. They chose not to follow the gas disk's fluid dynamics in fine detail, but rather more generally. As a result, they were able to run simulations spanning a planetary system's entire formation.

The simulations suggest that an average planetary system's origin is extremely dramatic. The gas disk that gives birth to the planets also pushes them mercilessly toward the central star, where they crowd together or are engulfed. Among the growing planets, there is cut-throat competition for gas, a chaotic process that produces a rich variety of planet masses.

Also, as the planets approach each other, they frequently lock into dynamical resonances that drive the orbits of all participants to be increasingly elongated. Such a gravitational embrace often results in a slingshot encounter that flings the planets elsewhere in the system; occasionally, one is ejected into deep space. Despite its best efforts to kill its offspring, the gas disk eventually is consumed and dissipates, and a young planetary system emerges.

"Such a turbulent history would seem to leave little room for the sedate solar system, and our simulations show exactly that," said Rasio. "Conditions must be just right for the solar system to emerge."

Too massive a gas disk, for example, and planet formation is an anarchic mess, producing "hot Jupiters" and noncircular orbits galore. Too low-mass a disk, and nothing bigger than Neptune -- an "ice giant" with only a small amount of gas -- will grow.

"We now better understand the process of planet formation and can explain the properties of the strange exoplanets we've observed," said Rasio. "We also know that the solar system is special and understand at some level what makes it special."

"The solar system had to be born under just the right conditions to become this quiet place we see. The vast majority of other planetary systems didn't have these special properties at birth and became something very different."

Megan Fellman | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.northwestern.edu

Further reports about: Jupiter Neptune Orbit exoplanets planetary formation planetary system solar system

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Unraveling the nature of 'whistlers' from space in the lab
15.08.2018 | American Institute of Physics

nachricht Early opaque universe linked to galaxy scarcity
15.08.2018 | University of California - Riverside

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Unraveling the nature of 'whistlers' from space in the lab

A new study sheds light on how ultralow frequency radio waves and plasmas interact

Scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles present new research on a curious cosmic phenomenon known as "whistlers" -- very low frequency packets...

Im Focus: New interactive machine learning tool makes car designs more aerodynamic

Scientists develop first tool to use machine learning methods to compute flow around interactively designable 3D objects. Tool will be presented at this year’s prestigious SIGGRAPH conference.

When engineers or designers want to test the aerodynamic properties of the newly designed shape of a car, airplane, or other object, they would normally model...

Im Focus: Robots as 'pump attendants': TU Graz develops robot-controlled rapid charging system for e-vehicles

Researchers from TU Graz and their industry partners have unveiled a world first: the prototype of a robot-controlled, high-speed combined charging system (CCS) for electric vehicles that enables series charging of cars in various parking positions.

Global demand for electric vehicles is forecast to rise sharply: by 2025, the number of new vehicle registrations is expected to reach 25 million per year....

Im Focus: The “TRiC” to folding actin

Proteins must be folded correctly to fulfill their molecular functions in cells. Molecular assistants called chaperones help proteins exploit their inbuilt folding potential and reach the correct three-dimensional structure. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry (MPIB) have demonstrated that actin, the most abundant protein in higher developed cells, does not have the inbuilt potential to fold and instead requires special assistance to fold into its active state. The chaperone TRiC uses a previously undescribed mechanism to perform actin folding. The study was recently published in the journal Cell.

Actin is the most abundant protein in highly developed cells and has diverse functions in processes like cell stabilization, cell division and muscle...

Im Focus: Lining up surprising behaviors of superconductor with one of the world's strongest magnets

Scientists have discovered that the electrical resistance of a copper-oxide compound depends on the magnetic field in a very unusual way -- a finding that could help direct the search for materials that can perfectly conduct electricity at room temperatur

What happens when really powerful magnets--capable of producing magnetic fields nearly two million times stronger than Earth's--are applied to materials that...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Within reach of the Universe

08.08.2018 | Event News

A journey through the history of microscopy – new exhibition opens at the MDC

27.07.2018 | Event News

2018 Work Research Conference

25.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Unraveling the nature of 'whistlers' from space in the lab

15.08.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Diving robots find Antarctic winter seas exhale surprising amounts of carbon dioxide

15.08.2018 | Earth Sciences

Early opaque universe linked to galaxy scarcity

15.08.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>