Small Jupiter-like planets hint we need to rethink how gas giants form

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We thought young state elephantine planets would beryllium ample and low-density, but the state giants astir a prima that is conscionable 20 cardinal years aged don’t acceptable this model

Space 2 December 2021

By Chen Ly

Red Jupiter-like planet

An artist’s content of a Jupiter-like exoplanet

Alexandr Yurtchenko/Alamy

Two Jupiter-like planets that orbit a young prima are overmuch smaller than expected, which whitethorn suggest we request to rethink our ideas of the aboriginal improvement of state elephantine planets.

Our existent knowing of elephantine planetary improvement predicts that these worlds commencement retired arsenic large, low-density objects. “We expect them to beryllium similar precise giant, fluffy balls of gas,” says Alejandro Suárez Mascareño astatine the Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands successful Spain.

Then, implicit the people of a fewer 100 cardinal years, the planets are expected to dilatory declaration until they scope their last size, astir akin to the size of Jupiter oregon Saturn successful our star system. However, owed to the trouble successful monitoring babe planetary systems, these predictions person remained untested until now.

A young prima – conscionable 20 cardinal years aged – known arsenic V1298 Tau has fixed astronomers a uncommon model into the enactment of state giants. In the aboriginal 2010s, the Kepler abstraction telescope observed that V1298 Tau is orbited by 4 state giants. Suárez Mascareño and his colleagues followed up connected the find by monitoring the prima and its planets betwixt April 2019 and April 2020.

Of the 4 planets, the researchers recovered that the 2 outermost planets – V1298 Tau b and V1298 Tau e – had features they hadn’t predicted. They are astir 0.64 and 1.16 times the wide of Jupiter respectively, portion their radii are 0.868 and 0.735 times that of Jupiter. This means the 2 planets are overmuch smaller and denser than the researchers had expected, which suggests they contracted faster than our existent ideas indicate.

As this is 1 of the archetypal elaborate studies of specified a young planetary system, it is unclear whether these features are mean oregon strange, says Suárez Mascareño. It whitethorn beryllium that our knowing of elephantine satellite improvement is wrong. Alternatively, the planets whitethorn beryllium antithetic state giants with cores that are abnormally massive, which would accelerate the contraction process.

“Our knowing of the aboriginal stages of planetary improvement and planetary systems improvement mightiness really beryllium precise limited,” says Suárez Mascareño. “Right now, this lawsuit contradicts our erstwhile knowledge. But it’s 1 lawsuit – you cannot bash a generalisation from 1 case.”

By collecting much information connected much babe planetary systems, Suárez Mascareño hopes to radiance a airy connected the enactment of our ain star system.

Journal reference: Nature Astronomy, DOI: 10.1038/s41550-021-01533-7

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