Jupiter’s role in sculpting the early Solar System
Recent observations made by the Kepler space mission, combined with statistical analysis of existing ground and space-based data, have shown that planets somewhat bigger than the Earth—but substantially smaller than Jupiter—are extremely common in our Galaxy (1–4). These systems are typically found to be tightly packed, nearly coplanar, and have nearly circular orbits. Furthermore, these planets tend to have very short-period orbits, ranging from days to months. In contrast, our innermost planet, Mercury, orbits the Sun once every 88 d. Thus, taken at face value, these observations imply that the architecture of our Solar System is unique compared with the galactic population. In other words, why are there no short-period planets in our Solar System? In PNAS, Batygin and Laughlin (5) demonstrate that Jupiter is to blame. In particular, Jupiter’s inward-followed-by-outward migration during the Solar System’s early evolution could have driven a collisional cascade that would grind planetesimals to smaller size. Gas drag, which dominates these small planetesimals, may then have driven preexisting short-period planets into the Sun. Thus, Batygin and Laughlin (5) suggest that the terrestrial planets in our Solar System are in fact “second-generation planets,” which formed after the first short-period planets were destroyed, in mass-dispersed, gas-depleted conditions (see Fig. 1 for the description of the scenario). The developed model suggests that systems with short-period Earth and super-Earth planets are anticorrelated with the existence of giant planets within the same system.