A groundbreaking study of ancient meteorites has provided the first evidence that Jupiter was once closer to the sun before it shifted position.
The research provides tentative support for the theory that as planets formed billions of years ago, gravity slowly drew them toward the center of the solar system. solar systemwhich was once about the same distance as Mars is now.
However Jupiter Scientists believe that after Saturn formed, it was pulled back to its current position.
During this back-and-forth migration over millions of years, the gas giant is thought to have wreaked major gravitational havoc on asteroids and other celestial bodies — including causing some of them to collide with each other.
So far, there has been no physical evidence to support the so-called “Grand Tack” theory, but scientists believe they may have found it after an international team of researchers analyzed a collection of calcium-magnesium meteorites.
Rock fragments collected from Antarctica and northwestern Africa formed about 4.5 billion years ago—about the same time that Jupiter is suspected to have formed and migrated.
A single sample was found to have two different planetary origins, a chemical analysis found, suggesting that the meteorite was the result of a mid-space collision, possibly caused by Jupiter’s gravitational disruption in the solar system.
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Ben Ryder-Stokes, a doctoral student at the Open University in the UK, said the findings provide important clues about Jupiter’s formation and migration.
He added: “This study suggests that these meteorites are the result of asteroids and objects colliding together, possibly due to gravitational disruption from the formation and motion of Jupiter.
“So this provides the first empirical evidence for this event, which has only been modeled before.”
Mr Rider-Stokes said what happened to Jupiter was “a huge solar system event”.
“The formation and migration of gas giants such as Jupiter are critical to the evolution of planetary systems, yet the timing of these events in our solar system remains largely unconstrained.
“The Angrete meteorites represent some of the oldest material in the inner solar system and thus provide a unique window into processes that occurred during this period,” he said.
The findings were published in the journal Nature Astronomy.