Monday, March 09, 2009

Jupiter ate its early moons

This rather unpleasant view of our jovian neighbor comes from a recent article in New Scientist. Yes, it would appear that the present four moons orbiting Jupiter are the last survivors of at least 5 generations of moons that once circled the gas giant.

At one point there may have been as many as 25 moons orbiting Jupiter and it seems that in the early stages of the formation of the solar system Jupiter devoured 20 or more. The missing moons conjecture comes from estimates of Jupiter's debris cloud during the solar system's formation. This cloud is estimated to have been roughly 30 to 40 percent of the mass of the parent planet. The discrepancy comes from the combined mass of the planets now circling Jupiter which is a paltry 2 percent.

Scientists think that there may have been 5 different sets of moons which spiraled into Jupiter leaving the present 4 which formed when material from the planetary disk stopped flowing into the Jupiter system.

What's even more interesting is that the very same process may have taken place on Saturn.

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