The latest news out of our solar system invokes memories of a game of Hungry Hippos.
A new paper published this month in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics says that the planet Jupiter might have gotten so big in part by, in a sense, gobbling up smaller nearby planets.
NASA’s Juno probe was able to collect new data about the monstrous planet when Jupiter’s notoriously huge gas clouds temporarily parted and the space mission was able to peek inside its core.
According to the returned chemical composition, astronomers believe a hungry Jupiter likely devoured numerous “planetesimals,” or baby planets, in the distant past.
The newest findings highlight what a monster Jupiter really is. The planet is more than 300 times bigger than our own and has double the strength of Earth’s gravity. It also has the Great Red Spot — a storm that’s been raging for at least 150 years, reports Space magazine, but likely much longer.
Jupiter was not only “one of the first planets to form in our solar system,” but also “the most influential planet in the formation of the solar system,” Yamila Miguel, a Dutch astrophysicist who led the research, told Live Science.
Until this study, astrophysicists have debated whether Jupiter formed by eating other planets or from pulling in other space debris with its incredible gravitational pull.
Now, this team of researchers believes they may have solved the mystery.
These findings also suggest that other gas giants within the solar system, such as Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, may have planetesimal origins, as well.
Earthlings are likely to learn a whole lot more about Jupiter — a.k.a. “The Gas Giant” — in coming years, as the newly launched James Webb Space Telescope is pointing one of its giant gold mirrors on the planet as one of its 13 early target missions.
“In the first year of science operations, we expect Webb to write entirely new chapters in the history of our origins — the formation of stars and planets,” said Klaus Pontoppidan, the Space Telescope Science Institute project scientist for Webb, in a recent NASA blog post.