TechNew insights on planet formation: Large gas giants may start as flattened disks, suggests study

New insights on planet formation: Large gas giants may start as flattened disks, suggests study

Jupiter
Jupiter
Images source: © NASA
5:03 AM EST, February 13, 2024

In the Milky Way, there are countless planets, but their exact formation process remains largely unclear. What we do know is that dense clouds of gas and dust condense to form stars. The remnants of this formation contribute to the birth of other elements of the planetary system, such as planets, comets, asteroids, and moons.

But what about the creation of planets themselves? We observe a phenomenon called accretion for smaller planets like Earth, Venus, Mars, or Mercury. This involves accumulating chunks of rocks, with pieces sticking together until a planet eventually forms. For larger gas planets, however, a different process called disk instability may occur. This new insight is the brainchild of astrophysicists Adam Fenton and Dimitris Stamatellos from the University of Central Lancashire. A comprehensive article detailing their research has been published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics Letters.

Insights into the formation of large gas giants

The scientists conducted extensive simulations, manipulating several aspects of the process, such as gas density, temperature, and disk speed. The research took place at the British center DiRAC High Performance Computing Facility. The fascinating results prove that their hard work was well worthwhile.

The recent studies suggest that gas giant protoplanets initially adopt a flattened shape. The simulations are also indicative of the pattern in which material accumulates on the expanding protoplanet - mostly at the poles as opposed to around the equator.

The implications of this discovery for the conventional core accretion model remain uncertain at this stage. However, the research team speculates that the properties of a protoplanet situated within the stellar disk might appear differently based on the viewing perspective.

Computer simulation of planet formation in the protostellar disk
Computer simulation of planet formation in the protostellar disk© Astronomy & Astrophysics Letters | Adam Fenton, Dimitris Stamatellos

This research could impact our comprehension of other planets as well. The scientists assert that while our ability to detect forming planets is improving, it's equally crucial to understand how to interpret what we see. From the side, the pancake-like shape is more noticeable, but viewed from above, it could be easily mistaken for a sphere.

A simulated young planet viewed from above (on the left) and from the side (on the right)
A simulated young planet viewed from above (on the left) and from the side (on the right)© Astronomy & Astrophysics Letters | Adam Fenton, Dimitris Stamatellos
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