Jupiter may be the Pac-Man of our Solar System, gobbling up anything in its path. Scientists confirmed a long-held belief that Jupiter formed by breaking tiny planetary bodies apart and spewing them out into the gas surrounding the planet’s core. That’s right. Jupiter is a planet-eater.
The researchers used measurements of the planet’s gravity and atmosphere made by the Juno probe, which has performed over 40 flyovers since 2016. It provides stunning photographs and otherwise impossible measurements as part of its mission.
Scientists compared Juno’s measurements against various simulations of how Jupiter was created. The research focused on what makes up the planet’s core and the “envelope” of liquids and gasses around that core. They found there are more metals closer to the core than farther away from it. This indicates that Jupiter formed by breaking apart planetesimals, or tiny planets.
Planetesimals were key elements in forming our Solar System. Those that weren’t gobbled up creating planets became comets or asteroids. Some moons, including the two orbiting Mars, may have started as planetesimals.
Scientists have been taking increasingly more detailed photographs of Jupiter for years, including of the planet’s famous giant red spot. Other than Juno, the Hubble Space Telescope and land-based telescopes contribute to studying the planet. The probe will orbit Jupiter until 2025 and then crash into the planet.
The best part of the mission is that the probe is named after the Roman goddess Juno, wife of Jupiter. And the Roman god’s lovers inspired the names of many of the planet’s moons. So NASA sent Jupiter’s wife to take pictures of him and all his boyfriends and girlfriends. Well played.
Melissa is Nerdist’s science & technology staff writer. She also moderates “science of” panels at conventions and co-hosts Star Warsologies, a podcast about science and Star Wars. Follow her on Twitter @melissatruth.