Scientists have discovered that the interior of Jupiter consists of the remains of small planets that were devoured by the gas giant during its expansion to become the size it is today, and the results come from the first clear display under the cloudy outer atmosphere of the planet.
According to RT, despite being the largest planet in the solar system, Jupiter has revealed very little about its internal formations. Telescopes have taken thousands of images of swirling clouds in the gas giant’s upper atmosphere, but these vortex storms, similar to Van Gogh’s paintings, also act as a barrier to our view of what’s below.
In the new study, scientists were finally able to see Jupiter’s gaseous mantle using gravity data collected by NASA’s Juno space probe.
This data enabled the team to map the rocky material at the core of the giant planet, which revealed a surprisingly great abundance of heavy elements, indicating that Jupiter devours small planets, or mini-planets (the solid bodies thought to be found in rotating planetary disks). and in debris discs), to grow to its current size.
Jupiter began its life with the gravity of the planet, which pulls rocks and gases from great distances. This was mostly hydrogen and helium left over from the birth of the Sun, which formed the enormous gas-filled atmosphere.
The results of the study support a proposed theory that Jupiter’s core was formed by the absorption of many small planets, large space rocks stretching several miles.
If left undisturbed, these space rocks could potentially evolve into rocky planets like Earth or Mars.
“Since we cannot directly observe how Jupiter formed, we have to put the pieces together with the information we have today,” the study’s lead researcher, Yamila Miguel, told Live Science.
“Here on Earth, we use seismographs to study the planet’s interior using earthquakes,” Miguel explained.
But since there is no surface for Jupiter to place such devices on, scientists have built computer models of Jupiter’s interior by integrating data collected by sensors aboard vehicles such as Juno and Galileo.
The sensors measured the planet’s gravitational field at various points around its orbit, and this data enabled the team to determine subtle differences in the planet’s gravity, which helped them figure out where the rocky material was inside the planet.
“The Juno spacecraft provided very accurate gravity data that helped us restrict the distribution of material in Jupiter’s interior,” said Miguel.
Research models revealed that there are 11 to 30 Earth masses of heavy elements within Jupiter (3% to 9% of Jupiter’s mass), which is much more than expected.
Only Jupiter devouring minor planets, Miguel said, explained this high concentration of heavy elements.
The new findings could change theories of the origin of other planets in the solar system, such as Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.