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A massive planet may have crashed in young Jupiter



A new study suggests that the planet Jupiter may have been hit a long time ago by a still-developing planet, about 10 times larger than Earth.

Scientists believe that the frontal catastrophe happened shortly after Jupiter was formed.

Scientists claim that such a violent collision can explain the conditions inside the center of the planet.

A research report appears in the publication Nature .

Astronomers believe the collision may have happened several million years after the formation of our sun. The solar system – made up of the sun and eight major planets – was formed about 4.6 billion years ago.

  This undated image shows the depiction of an artist on NASA's Juno spacecraft making a close passage over Jupiter. (NASA via AP)

This undated image shows the depiction of an artist on NASA's Juno spacecraft making a close passage over Jupiter. (NASA via AP)

Jupiter is massive – more than twice the size of all other planets in the solar system. Jupiter is a gaseous planet composed primarily of hydrogen and helium. Scientists believe that it formed when gravity draws gas and dust left from the formation of the sun.

Researchers have long sought to understand more about Jupiter. In recent years, the NASA has conducted research on the planet. The Juno spacecraft, launched in 2011, uses tools to measure the planet's gravitational and magnetic fields.

Juno made interesting discoveries about Jupiter. He showed that Jupiter probably has a center " diluted " mixed with light and heavy materials. In the past, scientists theorized that the planet probably had a dense, solid nucleus .

In the latest study, researchers examined data and other measurements collected by Juneau. They used this information to build models to predict what made the planet's nucleus and how it was structured.

Their models support the theory that a collision has taken place between Jupiter and a still developing planet. The team's discoveries suggest that the object that hit Jupiter would be about 10 times the size of Earth. Such a collapse, involving both massive planets, could separate Jupiter's dense core and mixed light elements with heavy ones.

Andrea Isela is an astronomer at Rice University of Texas. He helped guide the study.

Isela said in a statement that he was initially uncertain about the theory of the collision when the idea was presented. "Sounds very unlikely to me," he said, "as a probability of one in a trillion."

  This composite image, provided by NASA, obtained from data collected by the Jupiter spacecraft in the orbit of Jupi, shows the central cyclone of the northern the pole of the planet and the eight cyclones that surround it. (NASA / JPL-Caltech / SwRI / ASI / INAF / JIRAM via AP)

This compiled image, provided by NASA, obtained from data collected by the Jupiter spacecraft in orbit, shows the central cyclone of the planet's north pole and eight the cyclones that surround it. (NASA / JPL-Caltech / SwRI / ASI / INAF / JIRAM via AP)

But Isela said she began to support the theory when she saw calculations made by another researcher. This researcher was Shang-Fei Liu, an astronomer at China's Sun Yatsen University. He said the calculations – derived from computer simulation methods – changed his decision that the theory was "not so incredible."

The study found that at least 40 percent of Jupiter is likely to collide with a still-emerging planet in the first its millions of years.

Isela said that scientists now believe that such major collisions may have been common while the solar system is still developing. "We believe, for example, that our moon was formed after such an event," he told Reuters. "However, the impact that we postulate on Jupiter is a real monster."

  On this July 10, 2016, the NASA-released image was taken by the spacecraft Juno, five days after he arrived in Jupiter. The image shows Jupiter's Big Red Spot and three of its four largest moons. (Juno / NASA / JPL-Caltech / SwRI / MSSS via AP)

On this July 10, 2016, the NASA-released image was taken by the Juno spacecraft, five days after its arrival in Jupiter. The image shows Jupiter's Big Red Spot and three of its four largest moons. (Juno / NASA / JPL-Caltech / SwRI / MSSS via AP)

According to theory, a still developing planet – also known as a protoplanet – would be engulfed by Jupiter. Liu said that if the collision had not happened, the protoplanet would probably have become a massive gas planet in our solar system.

Researchers also suggest that a similar collision involving the planet Saturn may have occurred while the solar system was still young. That may explain the structural differences between Jupiter and Saturn, they said.

I'm Brian Lynn.

Brian Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English based on reports from Reuters, Nature and Rice University. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in this story

Diluted cf. made weaker by mixing in something else

core n. the center or the most important part of something

calculation n. mathematical evaluation of something

impact n. the force by which one thing strikes another

postulate v. to suggest or accept that a theory or idea is true


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