Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system. In fact, the massive gas giant is two and a half times larger than every other planet in our solar system combined. Therefore, it would only make sense that it is also, apparently the most dominant, as new evidence suggests that the planet was responsible for the ejection of an ancient planet from our solar system long ago.
The investigation into this notion started in 2011, when astronomers began to realize that our solar system just isn’t right. Compared to other systems found throughout the universe, ours seems to be one planet short, specifically a gas giant, similar to Saturn of Jupiter. It was concluded that we have a planetary layout suitable for nine celestial bodies (ten if you’re counting Pluto), but we only have eight. Scientists then began to study possible factors that could have lead to an entire planet going missing, and the simplest explanation pinned all the guilt on Jupiter.
Apparently this long lost planet had a close encounter with a large gas giant that pulled it from its orbit around the sun, eventually sending it into interstellar space. This theory could name Saturn of Jupiter as the guilty party, as they would’ve both been close enough to affect the planets orbit. A look into the current orbital status of the moons of each planet helped scientists decide which planet was the cause.
Such a dramatic celestial event would require a moon or planet to be fairly large to escape it with its orbit intact and it would appear that Jupiter’s moon Callisto is that large. Today, its orbit seems relatively normal. Saturn and its moon Iapetus, on the other hand, would have been deeply affected by such a dramatic gravitational shift, something that would be observable today in its current obitational trajectory. Since large inconsistencies are seen today in the orbits of either planet or their moons, scientists say it’s safe to assume that Jupiter was the cause, since only it had the size to escape the ordeal unaffected.
Jupiter is no stranger to interplanetary mischief though, as something called the Grand Track theory links it with the possible loss of many other planets. The theory suggests that at one point in time Jupiter was caught up in the pull of interplanetary dust not long after its formation and was headed towards the sun. When it caught up with Saturn, together the two planets settled each other in their current positions. A study into the theory conducted in March proposed that Jupiter’s romp through the solar system on its Grand Track caused the destruction of an entire set of planets, almost literally paving the way for the solar system we all know and love.
While some might find it a little tense to orbit the sun just mere millions of kilometres from a planetary serial killer, humanity must realize that without Jupiter clearing the way there would be no Earth at all. With that being said, the solar system will undoubtedly be sleeping with one eye open from now on.