Scientists have tried to understand what would have been the fate of Earth if there was one more planet present between Mars and Jupiter.
As the understanding of the Solar System continues to improve, more and more research is pouring into the formation and evolution of our home system, where eight planets revolve around the Sun. But there is a gap in our understanding of planetary science.
Researchers in a study aimed to address the gap in our analysis found that a Super-Earth between Mars and Jupiter would push Earth out of the solar system and wipe out all life on the planet. Super-Earths are planets that are more massive than Earth but lighter than ice giants like Neptune and Uranus.
What baffles scientists is that in most of the star systems that we have found there are Super-Earths between the size of terrestrial and giant gas planets. There is nothing of that sort in our Solar System. Meanwhile, scientists have long been hoping to find something in between Mars and Jupiter, where there is nothing for millions of kilometers.
The changed orbit of Earth would make it less habitable. (Photo: Nasa)
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“These gaps could offer important insights into the architecture of our solar system, and into Earth’s evolution. Planetary scientists often wish there was something in between those two planets. It seems like wasted real estate,” UCR astrophysicist Stephen Kane said in a statement.
Researchers ran dynamic computer simulations of a planet between Mars and Jupiter with a range of different masses, and then observed the effects on the orbits of all other planets. They found that this hypothetical planet would have been disastrous for not only Earth but also the Solar System.
The study published in the Planetary Science Journal states that this planet would have nudged Jupiter from its orbit and that would have been enough to destabilise the Solar System. “This fictional planet gives a nudge to Jupiter that is just enough to destabilize everything else. Despite many astronomers having wished for this extra planet, it’s a good thing we don’t have it,” Kane added.
Jupiter is the biggest planet in the Solar System, nearly 318 times that of Earth, and with a massive gravitational field, and even a slight disturbance to its orbit by any object would have extreme effects on the indexing of our Solar System. Researchers found that this Super Earth could ultimately eject Mercury and Venus from its orbit and also destabilize the orbits of Uranus and Neptune.
The changed orbit of Earth would make it less habitable, ejecting it out of the Goldilocks Zone around the Sun. “Our solar system is more finely tuned than I appreciated before. It all works like intricate clock gears. Throw more gears into the mix and it all breaks,” Kane added.