Jupiter: Cosmic Jekyll and Hyde
To cite this article:
Grazier Kevin R.. Astrobiology. January 2016, 16(1): 23-38. doi:10.1089/ast.2015.1321.
Published in Volume: 16 Issue 1: January 20, 2016
Online Ahead of Print: December 23, 2015
Kevin R. Grazier
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California.
Address correspondence to:
Kevin R. Grazier
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
California Institute of Technology
Submitted 17 March 2015 Accepted 18 July 2015
It has been widely reported that Jupiter has a profound role in shielding the terrestrial planets from comet impacts in the Solar System, and that a jovian planet is a requirement for the evolution of life on Earth. To evaluate whether jovians, in fact, shield habitable planets from impacts (a phenomenon often referred to as the “Jupiter as shield” concept), this study simulated the evolution of 10,000 particles in each of the jovian inter-planet gaps for the cases of full-mass and embryo planets for up to 100 My. The results of these simulations predict a number of phenomena that not only discount the “Jupiter as shield” concept, they also predict that in a Solar System like ours, large gas giants like Saturn and Jupiter had a different, and potentially even more important, role in the evolution of life on our planet by delivering the volatile-laden material required for the formation of life.
The simulations illustrate that, although all particles occupied “non-life threatening” orbits at their onset of the simulations, a significant fraction of the 30,000 particles evolved into Earth-crossing orbits. A comparison of multiple runs with different planetary configurations revealed that Jupiter was responsible for the vast majority of the encounters that “kicked” outer planet material into the terrestrial planet region, and that Saturn assisted in the process far more than has previously been acknowledged. Jupiter also tends to “fix” the aphelion of planetesimals at its orbit irrespective of their initial starting zones, which has the effect of slowing their passages through the inner Solar System, and thus potentially improving the odds of accretion of cometary material by terrestrial planets. As expected, the simulations indicate that the full-mass planets perturb many objects into the deep outer Solar System, or eject them entirely; however, planetary embryos also did this with surprising efficiency. Finally, the simulations predict that Jupiter's capacity to shield or intercept Earth-bound comets originating in the outer Solar System is poor, and that the importance of jovian planets on the formation of life is not that they act as shields, but rather that they deliver life-enabling volatiles to the terrestrial planets.
Key Words: Asteroid—Comets—Interstellar meteorites—Extrasolar terrestrial planets—Simulation.
Astrobiology 16, 23–38.
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