Celestial mechanics

, Volume 9, Issue 3, pp 321–348 | Cite as

On the origin of the solar system, I

  • Gerard P. Kuiper


The principal dynamical properties of the planetary and satellite systems listed in Section 2 require these bodies to have condensed in highly-flattened nebulae which provided the dissipation forces that produced the common directions of orbital motion, and the lowe andi values. Minimum masses of these nebulae can be estimated on the assumption that the initial solar abundances apply, starting from the empirical data on present planetary and satellite compositions and masses.

The asteroids and comets are assumed to be direct condensations and accretion products in their respective zones (2–4 AU and 20–50 AU), without the benefit of gravitational instability in the solar nebula, owing to the comparatively low density there; with gravitational instability accelerating and ultimately dominating the accretion of the planets and major satellites, in zones approaching and exceeding the local Roche density. Only in the case of Jupiter, gravitational instability appears to have dominated from the outset; the other planets are regarded as hybrid structures, having started from limited accretions.

In Section 3 the empirical information on protostars is reviewed. ‘Globules’ are described, found to have the typical range of stellar masses and with gaseous compositions now well known thanks largely to radio astronomy. They contain also particulate matter identified as silicates, ice, and probably graphite and other carbon compounds. The measured internal velocities would predict a spread of total angular momenta compatible with the known distribution of semi-major axes in double stars. The planetary system is regarded as an ‘unsuccessful’ binary star, in which the secondary mass formed a nebula instead of a single stellar companion, with 1–2% of the solar mass. This mass fraction gives a basis for an estimate of thefrequency of planetary systems. The later phases of the globules are not well known empirically for the smaller masses of solar type; while available theoretical predictions are mostly made for non-rotating pre-stellar masses.

Section 5 reviews current knowledge of the degree of stability of the planetary orbits over the past 4.5×109 yr, preparatory to estimates of their original locations and modes of origin. The results of the Brouwer and Van Woerkom theory and of recent numerical integrations by Cohenet al. indicate no drastic changes in Δa/a over the entire post-formation history of the planets. Unpublished numerical integrations by Dr P. E. Nacozy show the remarkable stability of the Jupiter-Saturn system as long as the planetary masses are well below 29 times their actual values. Numerical values of Δa/a are collected for all planets. The near resonances found for both pairs of planets and of satellites are briefly reviewed.

Section 6 cites the statistics on the frequency and masses of asteroids and information on the Kirkwood gaps, both empirical and theoretical. An analogous discussion is made for the Rings of Saturn, including its extension observed in 1966 to the fourth Saturn satellite, Dione. The reality, or lack of it, of the divisions in the Rings are considered. The numbers of Trojan asteroids are reviewed, as is the curious, yet unexplained, bimodal distribution of their orbital inclinations. Important information comes from the periods of rotation of the asteroids and the orientation of their rotational axes.

The major Hirayama families are considered as remnants of original asteroid clusterings whose membership has suffered decreases through planetary perturbations. Other families with fewer large members may be due to collisions. The three main classes of meteorites, irons, stones, and carbonaceous chondrites all appear to be of asteroidal origin and they yield the most direct evidence on the early thermal history of the solar system. While opinion on this subject is still divided, the author sees in the evidence definite confirmation of thecold origin of the planetary system, followed by ahot phase due to the evolving sun that caused the dissolution of the solar nebula. This massive outward ejection, that included the smaller planetesimals, appears to have caused the surface melting of the asteroids by intense impact, with the splashing responsible for the formation of the chondrules. The deep interiors of the asteroids are presumably similar to the C1 meteorites which have recently been found to be more numerous in space by two orders of magnitude than previously supposed.


Planetary System Solar Nebula Carbonaceous Chondrite Gravitational Instability Planetary Orbit 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company 1974

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gerard P. Kuiper
    • 1
  1. 1.Lunar and Planetary LaboratoryUniversity of ArizonaUSA

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