Hypothetical planet could destroy life on Earth, astrophysicists say

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(ORDO NEWS) — There is a large size gap in the solar system between the terrestrial planets (such as Earth and Mars) and the smallest of the ice giants, Neptune.

This is not the case in other systems where massive super-Earths are found in abundance. In fact, by some estimates, they are the most common type of exoplanet in our galaxy.

UC Riverside astrophysicist Stephen Cain has been studying the possible impact Super-Earth will have on the solar system.

In his model, he placed it between Mars and Jupiter. Kane ran computer simulations of this scenario, changing the mass and location of the hypothetical planet.

He discovered that if there was a Super-Earth in the solar system, we might not exist anymore.

“This hypothetical planet gives Jupiter enough of a boost to destabilize everything else,” Kane said in a press release.

“Even though many astronomers have dreamed of this extra planet, it’s a good thing we don’t have one.”

“Although Jupiter and Saturn experience relatively small orbital perturbations,” writes Kane, “the angular momentum transferred to the ice giants could cause them to be ejected from the system at key resonant points of the additional planet.”

Do not assume that the Earth will remain unscathed. In some simulations, in which the mass of the Super-Earth was seven times the mass of the Earth, our planet was also ejected from the solar system. In this simulation, Mars flies out early in about 10 million years.

“Mercury is also ejected relatively early in response to interactions with Venus and Earth, whose eccentricities gradually increase and create angular momentum in Mercury’s orbit,” Kane wrote.

Gradually, the orbits of Venus and Earth become more eccentric, “resulting in catastrophic close encounters” between the planets.

“Hence, both Venus and Earth are removed from the system within 8-9 million years.”

Kane explains that our gas giants, possibly migrating through the solar system, could have influenced the formation of rocky planets, preventing the formation of Super-Earths.

This means we don’t have a handy Super-Earth to explore that would help us learn more about exoplanet Super-Earths.

He notes that his “work represents the positive aspect of the absence of a local Super-Earth, demonstrating the potential for orbital instability such additional planetary mass can create.”

The good news is that gas giants like Jupiter can have a stabilizing effect on the orbits of rocky planets and super-Earths.

The bad news is that gas giants make up about 10 percent of the exoplanets we’ve discovered so far.

“The solar system is more finely tuned than I previously thought,” Kane added in a press release.

“It all works like complex clockwork. Add more gears to the mix and it all breaks down.”


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