Jupiter may be our friendly big brother, protecting us from would-be catastrophes as wandering asteroids get caught up its gravitational pull, but it apparently isn’t so friendly to other planets. In fact, it may have even kicked a gas giant out of our solar system.
According to astronomer David Nesvorny from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, we may have had a 9th planet (or 10th, if you’re still holding onto Pluto as a planet), and a 5th gas giant, at one point in time.
Nesvorny came to the conclusion that there must have been another gas giant after computer simulations determined that our solar system being where it is now is extremely unlikely, 2.5% to be exact, without the influence of another gas giant to help put things in their place.
During the early formation of our solar system, Nesvorny believes that the solar system was far too violent, and by all rights Earth should have crashed into Mars or Venus, or even worse, Jupiter could have been pulled closer to home, wreaking unimaginable havoc along the way.
In fact, scientists believe that Jupiter was on a path towards the inner solar system at one point, but something tugged it back into its proper place. But when Jupiter got to where it should be, it interrupted the orbit of another gas giant and flung it off into space, never to be seen again.
Nesvorny speculates that our solar system’s lost planet could have been an icy gas giant, similar in size and composition to, say, Neptune or Uranus.
Source: Space.com, Southwest Research Institute