By Mike Wehner
Jupiter is one of the most interesting places in the Solar System for a number of reasons. It’s massive ball of gas, covered in rolling storms, and it also happens to be the biggest planet in our neck of the woods. Now, an international team of researchers have reached a conclusion that supports the hypothesis that Jupiter is also the oldest planet in our system, and it’s all about the gas.
The group of scientists — from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, as well as Germany’s University of Münsterin — looked to meteorites to tell the story of the Solar System’s early days. Upon studying the makeup of various meteorites, they found that the rocky objects fall into one of two categories based on their specific makeup, and where they formed in the Solar System after its creation.
The fact that the objects were formed from one of two specific pools of material which was orbiting the Sun at that time — and the age of the meteorites themselves — led the researchers to infer that something must have been acting as a gatekeeper to prevent the two reservoirs of material from mixing.
That object, the team says, was Jupiter, and by studying the isotopes of the meteorites they are able to take a pretty solid guess at the planet’s age. The data suggests Jupiter’s rocky core formed just one million years after the solar system’s birth, and that it grew to 50 times the size of earth within three to four million years. When you consider the Solar System is somewhere in the neighborhood of 4.6-5 billion years old, that makes Jupiter a very, very old man in town.
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