Juno finds Jupiter’s core more extended and less dense than predicted


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My headline above focuses on the real story here, that Juno has found that Jupiter’s solid core is more fuzzy and extended.

Unfortunately, the press release instead focuses on one theory, based on computer models, that might explain this discovery.

The research team ran thousands of computer simulations and found that a fast-growing Jupiter can have perturbed the orbits of nearby “planetary embryos,” protoplanets that were in the early stages of planet formation.

Liu said the calculations included estimates of the probability of collisions under different scenarios and distribution of impact angles. In all cases, Liu and colleagues found there was at least a 40% chance that Jupiter would swallow a planetary embryo within its first few million years. In addition, Jupiter mass-produced “strong gravitational focusing” that made head-on collisions more common than grazing ones.

Isella said the collision scenario became even more compelling after Liu ran 3D computer models that showed how a collision would affect Jupiter’s core. “Because it’s dense, and it comes in with a lot of energy, the impactor would be like a bullet that goes through the atmosphere and hits the core head-on,” Isella said. “Before impact, you have a very dense core, surrounded by atmosphere. The head-on impact spreads things out, diluting the core.”

This theory is all well and good, but we mustn’t take it too seriously. It relies entirely on computer models, and carries with it enormous assumptions about the early solar system that are as yet unproven.

That Jupiter’s core however is fuzzy and extended however is quite fascinating, highlighting once again how little we know about the universe.

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