Nebular Hypothesis - Formation of Planets - Giant Planets

Giant Planets

The formation of giant planets is an outstanding problem in the planetary sciences. In the framework of the Solar Nebular Model two theories for their formation exist. The first one is the disk instability model, where giant planets form in the massive protoplanetary disks as a result of its gravitational fragmentation (see above). The second possibility is the core accretion model, which is also known as the nucleated instability model. The latter scenario is thought to be the most promising one, because it can explain the formation of the giant planets in relatively low mass disks (less than 0.1 solar masses). In this model giant planet formation is divided into two stages: a) accretion of a core of approximately 10 Earth masses and b) accretion of gas from the protoplanetary disk. Either method may also lead to the creation of brown dwarfs. Searches as of 2011 have found that core accretion is likely the dominant formation mechanism.

Giant planet core formation is thought to proceed roughly along the lines of the terrestrial planet formation. It starts with planetesimals that undergo runaway growth, followed by the slower oligarchic stage. Hypotheses do not predict a merger stage, due to the low probability of collisions between planetary embryos in the outer part of planetary systems. An additional difference is the composition of the planetesimals, which in the case of giant planets form beyond the so-called snow line and consist mainly of ice—the ice to rock ratio is about 4 to 1. This enhances the mass of planetesimals fourfold. However, the minimum mass nebula capable of terrestrial planet formation can only form 1–2 Earth-mass cores at the distance of Jupiter (5 AU) within 10 million years. The latter number represents the average lifetime of gaseous disks around sun-like stars. The proposed solutions include enhanced mass of the disk—a tenfold increase would suffice; protoplanet migration, which allows the embryo to accrete more planetesimals; and finally accretion enhancement due to gas drag in the gaseous envelopes of the embryos. Some combination of the above-mentioned ideas may explain the formation of the cores of gas giant planets such as Jupiter and perhaps even Saturn. The formation of planets like Uranus and Neptune is more problematic, since no theory has been capable of providing for the in situ formation of their cores at the distance of 20–30 AU from the central star. One hypothesis is that they initially accreted in the Jupiter-Saturn region, then were scattered and migrated to their present location.

Once the cores are of sufficient mass (5–10 Earth masses), they begin to gather gas from the surrounding disk. Initially it is a slow process, increasing the core masses up to 30 Earth masses in a few million years. After that, the accretion rates increase dramatically and the remaining 90% of the mass is accumulated in approximately 10,000 years. The accretion of gas stops when it is exhausted. This happens when a gap opens in the protoplanetary disk. In this model ice giants—Uranus and Neptune—are failed cores that began gas accretion too late, when almost all gas had already disappeared. The post-runaway-gas-accretion stage is characterized by migration of the newly formed giant planets and continued slow gas accretion. Migration is caused by the interaction of the planet sitting in the gap with the remaining disk. It stops when the protoplanetary disk disappears or when the end of the disk is attained. The latter case corresponds to the so-called hot Jupiters, which are likely to have stopped their migration when they reached the inner hole in the protoplanetary disk.

Giant planets can significantly influence terrestrial planet formation. The presence of giants tends to increase eccentricities and inclinations (see Kozai mechanism) of planetesimals and embryos in the terrestrial planet region (inside 4 AU in the Solar System). If giant planets form too early, they can slow or prevent inner planet accretion. If they form near the end of the oligarchic stage, as is thought to have happened in the Solar System, they will influence the merges of planetary embryos, making them more violent. As a result, the number of terrestrial planets will decrease and they will be more massive. In addition, the size of the system will shrink, because terrestrial planets will form closer to the central star. The influence of giant planets in the Solar System, particularly that of Jupiter, is thought to have been limited because they are relatively remote from the terrestrial planets.

The region of a planetary system adjacent to the giant planets will be influenced in a different way. In such a region, eccentricities of embryos may become so large that the embryos pass close to a giant planet, which may cause them to be ejected from the system. If all embryos are removed, then no planets will form in this region. An additional consequence is that a huge number of small planetesimals will remain, because giant planets are incapable of clearing them all out without the help of embryos. The total mass of remaining planetesimals will be small, because cumulative action of the embryos before their ejection and giant planets is still strong enough to remove 99% of the small bodies. Such a region will eventually evolve into an asteroid belt, which is a full analog of the asteroid belt in the Solar System, located from 2 to 4 AU from the Sun.

Read more about this topic:  Nebular Hypothesis, Formation of Planets

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