Separate formation waves explain differences in inner and outer solar systems


(MENAFN – Swissinfo) An international research team including experts based in Zurich have suggested a new theory for planet formation and how differences in the chemical composition of planets and meteorites came about.

This content was published on January 23, 2021 – 15:41 January 23, 2021 – 15:41 ethz/gw

Planets of the inner solar system – Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars – are small, dry and rocky, unlike Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune in the outer system, which are larger and hold more water and volatile elements.

According to the prevailing wisdom, Jupiter was the first to form as the solar system was developing from a disc of gas and dust some 4.5 billion years ago. The large planet cut the disc into an inner and outer region and effectively blocked any exchange of materials between the two.

In research published in the journal Science, experts drawn from the University of Zurich, the federal technology institute ETH Zurich, the University of Oxford, LMU Munich and BGI Bayreuth present a new theory.

Using computer simulations, they found that the two solar systems formed in two separate waves. They argue that the first building blocks of the inner planets – known as planetesimals – appeared at the earliest stages of the sun’s formation, with a key role played not by Jupiter but by the snow line, made up of water vapour at a certain distance from the sun. Some of this vapour condensed onto grains of dust, which clumped together to form the planetesimals.

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