Early formation date may explain our oddball planetary lineup
Amy A. Simon, NASA, European Space Agency
Jupiter was an early bloomer. New measurements of meteorite ages suggest that the giant planet’s core must have formed within the solar system’s first million years. If so, Jupiter’s presence could help explain why the inner planets are so small — and possibly even be responsible for Earth’s existence.
Previously, astronomers’ best constraints on Jupiter’s age came from simulations of how solar systems form in general. Gas giants like Jupiter grow by accreting gas from spinning disks of gas and dust around a young star. Those disks typically don’t last more than 10 million years, so astronomers inferred that Jupiter formed by the time that disk dissipated.
“Now we can use actual data from the solar system to show Jupiter formed even earlier,” says Thomas Kruijer, who did the research while at the University of Münster in Germany. Kruijer, now at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, and his team