Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Our Changing Solar System

As they keep searching, astronomers learn more and more about how our Solar System formed. There is a good amount of understanding on how things happened, but a lot of the finer details of just why things appear the way they do still have to be answered.

Our Solar System is like a giant cosmic puzzle, and we are constantly finding new clues about the course of its evolution.

This week a few amazing findings that are redefining the way we understand our Solar System, planet formation, and what we might expect to find in other star systems.

An artistic rendition of the impact that created the Moon.

The idea that our Earth-Moon configuration is a rare occurrence has been challenged by simulations. Our Moon is considered to be disproportionally large, at over a quarter of the Earth's diameter. The Moon was formed from a large impact between a young Earth and a Mars-sized planet. The simulations run by researchers from the University of Zurich's Institute of Theoretical Physics in Switzerland and the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado show that these kinds of impacts might actually be much more common, perhaps as many as one in 10 rocky planets around a Sun-like star may host a large moon.

What is even better about this news, it is a way to help identify possible habitable planets. The Moon plays a large role in making the Earth a livable place between blocking would-be impactors and stirring the tides. Other planets with large moons could be ripe for life.

In this artist's conception, gas and dust—the raw materials for making planets—swirl around a young star. The planets in our solar system formed from a similar disk of gas and dust captured by our Sun. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The planet-sized object that glanced the Earth might have gotten its gravitational push from Jupiter. In another piece of news, researchers from around the world and NASA have developed a new model about the early motions of planets in our Solar System. The biggest news in this is the roaming of Jupiter, at one point it would have wandered almost as close to the Sun as Mars (before Mars was there), it would have only been stopped by the counter pull of Saturn.

The effects of Jupiter's motions have a profound impact. Over millions of years, Jupiter would have pushed around objects in our neighborhood. The nature of the asteroid belt would owe itself to these gravitational interactions. And probably the biggest impact is that Jupiter prevented Mars from growing to a larger planet. Jupiter either absorbed or scattered most of the material in the region Mars exists in, leaving slim pickings for planet formation.

A previous concept about the edge of our Solar System, which may be changing with new findings. Credit: NASA

And the last story about our amazing Solar System doesn't quite flow with the other two as well, but is still important. NASA is holding a teleconference on June 9 to discuss conditions at the edge of the Solar System. Based on data from the Voyager probes, the view of the edge of our Solar System needs to be changed.

The discussion will be about "a new computer model that shows the edge of our solar system is not smooth, but filled with a turbulent sea of magnetic bubbles." Since this is a poorly understood and previously unexplored region, there is much to be learned. Understanding is important though, this is a region that protects us from galactic cosmic rays.

Another reason why I am interested in this particular conference is because one of the panelists I have met before. Merav Opher used to be an assistant professor at my alma mater, George Mason University. She is wonderfully intelligent and I have found her work with the Voyager probes absolutely fascinating.


33 comments:

Fermium Death said...

Great post. It reminds me about how the universe was formed and how the galaxies are expanding.
And when it comes through my mind, I feel so tiny :/

Solsby Kid said...

This is crazy! Great info, love the blog, keep it up! :D

BrAd? said...

At first this made me feel small and insignificant.
Then I remembered that whilst the universe IS gigantic, that doesn't stop it all from revolving around yours truly.

Jay said...

Jupiter is such a bully, always pushing around the other little planets. ;)

Seriously though, were all of the planets formed at roughly the same time, and if they absorbed floating material in their "birth", are they made up of the same kinds of material i.e. would we find as much iron ore, gold, etc. on the other planets as here on Earth?

BigMike said...

I love that planetary science is moving ahead even as our maned space program has ground to a halt.

phthalo. said...

I love it that science is a field that is constantly evolving and learning. Ideas that have been presented constantly get replaced with better models and better theories. It's what makes science such a fascinating subject to study.

The Angry Lurker said...

Fascinating, time frames in the 100's of thousands and millions of years.

Zombie said...

Makes ya feel so dang small... :p

Rorschach Redemption said...

Why all the moon-hate? And I do hope Jupiter decides to stay put for awhile.

Xenototh said...

I remember reading a lot about Jupiter being our big brother, with it's magnetic and gravitational fields basically saving our asses from getting pounded by debris. Go Jupiter!

Lost.in.Idaho said...

So if the edge of the solar system is a magnetic ocean, I wonder what that means for interstellar space travel? We now have one more major obstacle to consider...

Should be a fun conference. Can't wait to hear the play by play.

Dave said...

As always fantastic pics and information. Thanks.

-E- said...

woot university of colorado!

BenF199105 said...

literally anything about space makes me feel scared of how small our planet it!

+follow
benf199105.blogspot.com

Melanie said...

I totally love your blog. Great post! Keep it up!

Banacek said...

I'm all for finding new habitable planets! Good info!

Kicking Rocks said...

we will never discover the entire universe because it is still being created!

HOODPHENOMENOM said...

This conference mught be interesting. Great post.

kgp318 said...

Wow, I had no idea that the Moon could have such a great impact on life. It is exciting to find out that planets with moons could have life too...yay :)

Dejch said...

space is so amazing!

MRanthrope said...

that image depicting the moon's creation reminded me of that Power Man 5000 song "When Worlds Collide." haha

Malkavian said...

Cool, i never have grasped the concept of our moon being created by an impact to our own planet.

Funny Picture of the Day said...

That's some good stuff man.

Biff Tanner said...

Very nice post some great information here.

//Cheer§

Astronomy Pirate said...

@Jay, The elements that made up the planets had a HUGE part to do with were they formed, and when. The outer gas planets formed first. They are made up of mostly gas because gas that was closer to the Sun either went into forming the Sun or gravitationally escaped further out. Some even think the gas giants could have formed before or at the same time as the Sun!

The rocky planets came later, and were made out of heavier elements that couldn't escape further from the Sun's gravity.

thenitefalls said...

I didn't know that's how the moon was created, thanks for expanding my mind :D

m.m. said...

Magnetic bubbles??? That sounds exciting.

I'm so glad for our moon!

ed said...

i learned our solar system is like a sponge

Bonjour Tristesse said...

It is fascinating how many things had to happen just perfectly for the Earth to be what it is today.

Jay said...

@Astronomy Pirate: thanks for the info, i learn something new every time i visit this blog and your comment answers. :)

DIYgamer said...

So crazy to think about how big it is....

Followed!

srnajera said...

awesomee

Daniel said...

didn't know that, thx

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated, please no advertising or profanity. This also helps me see who is dropping by.