They don’t call Jupiter “King of Planets” for nothing. It’s massive, really heavy, and now scientists think it ate chunks of other planets to get as big as it is.
That’s right, the gas giant named after Greek and Roman gods is thought to have absorbed a series of small “planetesimals” en route to claiming its place as the biggest planet in the solar system.
The theory comes from an international team of astronomers led by Yamila Miguel from the SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research and is set out in an article in Astronomy & Astrophysics.
It follows news last year that NASA scientists are baffled by the discovery that the planet’s Great Red Spot is accelerating.
When NASA’s Juno space mission arrived at Jupiter in 2016, scientists caught a glimpse of the remarkable beauty of the fifth planet from the sun.
Besides the famous Great Red Spot, Jupiter turns out to be littered with hurricanes, almost giving it the appearance and mystique of a Van Gogh painting.
But what lay underneath the outer layer was not immediately clear.
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Juno was however able to measure variations in gravitational pull above different locations on the planet’s surface, giving the astronomers information about what lay below.
What they found was not a homogenous and well-mixed composition, but instead a higher concentration of “metals” – elements heavier than hydrogen and helium – towards the centre of the planet.
The team of astronomers says the most likely explanation is that Jupiter absorbed numbers of “planetesimals”, getting bigger and bigger.
Planetesimals are one of a class of bodies that are believed to have coalesced to form Earth and the other planets after condensing from concentrations of diffuse matter early in the history of the solar system.