Possible consequences of absence of “jupiters” in planetary systems
- Cite this article as:
- Wetherill, G.W. Astrophys Space Sci (1994) 212: 23. doi:10.1007/BF00984505
The formation of the gas giant planets Jupiter and Saturn probably required the growth of massive ∼ 15 Earth-mass cores on a time scale shorter than the ∼ 107 time scale for removal of nebular gas. Relatively minor variations in nebular parameters could preclude the growth of full-size gas giants even in systems in which the terrestrial planet region is similar to our own. Systems containing “failed Jupiters,” resembling Uranus and Neptune in their failure to capture much nebular gas, would be expected to contain more densely populated cometary source regions. They will also eject a smaller number of comets into interstellar space. If systems of this kind were the norm, observation of hyperbolic comets would be unexpected. Monte Carlo calculations of the orbital evolution of region of such systems (the Kuiper belt) indicate that throughout Earth history the cometary impact flux in their terrestrial planet regions would be ∼ 1000 times greater than in our Solar System. It may be speculated that this could frustrate the evolution of organisms that observe and seek to understand their planetary system. For this reason our observation of these planets in our Solar System may tell us nothing about the probability of similar gas giants occurring in other planetary systems. This situation can be corrected by observation of an unbiased sample of planetary systems.