Jupiter’s metallicity provides a clue to its heterogeneity

(ORDO NEWS) — An international team of astronomers has found that Jupiter’s gaseous shell does not have a uniform distribution.

The inner part contains more metals than the outer, with a total of 11 to 30 Earth masses, which is 3-9% of the total mass of Jupiter.

This is high enough metallicity to conclude that kilometer-sized bodies – planetesimals – must have played a role in Jupiter’s formation.

When NASA’s Juno spacecraft arrived at Jupiter in 2016, we saw the amazing beauty of our solar system’s largest planet.

In addition to the famous Great Red Spot, Jupiter was dotted with hurricanes, which gave it the look and mystery of Van Gogh paintings.

However, the shell of the planet, located under a thin visible layer, is not immediately evident. However, Juno is able to paint a picture for us by feeling the gravitational pull over various points on Jupiter.

This gives astronomers information about the composition of the interior, which is different from the surface.

An international team of astronomers led by Yamila Miguel (SRON/Leiden Observatory) found that the gaseous envelope is not as homogeneous and well mixed as previously thought.

On the contrary, there is a greater reduction in metals – elements heavier than hydrogen and helium – towards the center of the planet. To come to their conclusions, the team built a series of theoretical models.

The distribution of metals has been studied as it provides information on how Jupiter was formed. It turned out that there are more metals in the inner part than in the outer.

Miguel: “There are two mechanisms by which a gas giant like Jupiter acquires metals during its formation: by the accretion of small pebbles or by larger planetesimals.

We know that once a baby planet gets big enough, it starts pushing rocks out. The wealth of metals inside Jupiter that we see now is unattainable.

Thus, we can rule out a scenario in which only pebbles were solid during Jupiter’s formation. The planetesimals are too big to block, so they must have played their part.”

The fact that there are more heavy elements in the inner part of the shell than in the outer one means that the abundance decreases outward with a gradient, rather than uniform mixing occurs throughout the shell.

“We previously thought that there was convection on Jupiter, like in boiling water, making it completely mixed,” says Miguel. “But our results suggest otherwise.”


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