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article imageStudy: Did our young solar system maintain a fifth giant planet?

By Andrew Moran     Sep 27, 2011 in Science
Boulder - After conducting a series of computer simulations and studies, scientists are asking the question: did our solar system harbour a fifth giant planet during its infancy? Study authors say it is a “conceivable” idea.
Last week, professional scientists applauded users of the online citizen science project Planet Hunters for help in the possibility of discovering planets outside of our solar system from the comfort of their home.
This week, scientists are now talking about the likelihood that our solar system could have harboured a fifth giant planet during its infancy.
According to a news release from the Cornell University Library, scientists conducted several studies and 6,000 computer simulations at the Southwest Research Institute to understand how planets evolved into their present positions and how Neptune and Uranus were formed.
The results led to the researchers to conclude that the solar system we have now wouldn’t occur if it only began with four rocky planets and four gas giants. Therefore, David Nesvorny of the Boulder institution added a fifth planet into the equation. This then increased the likelihood of our solar system existing the way it is today.
The simulations also showed that Jupiter, Neptune, Saturn, Uranus and the fifth planet would have been close together and orbited 15 times further from the sun than the Earth. Approximately 3.9 billion years later, after the fifth planet collided with Saturn, it was sent out of the solar system to become a rogue planet, or a free-floating planet.
“Some of the statistically best results were obtained when assuming that the solar system initially had five giant planets and one ice giant, with the mass comparable to that of Uranus and Neptune, was ejected to interstellar space by Jupiter,” said the study authors. “This possibility appears to be conceivable in view of the recent discovery of a large number free-floating planets in interstellar space, which indicates that planet ejection should be common.”
More about southwest research institute, fifth planet, Solar system, Jupiter, giant planet
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