Since 1941, many astronomers have thought of Jupiter as a protective big brother for planet Earth, deflecting asteroids and comets away from the inner Solar System, and now, a new study has challenged its role as the celestial shield.
According to the research, the “Jupiter as shield” concept is false and Jupiter's most important role in fostering the development of life on Earth is just the opposite, delivering the volatile materials from the outer Solar System needed for life to form.
Kevin Grazier, PhD, at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, describes the study, in which he simulated the evolution of tens of thousands of particles in the gaps between the jovian planets for up to 100 million years.
Based on the results, Grazier concludes that the widely reported shield role attributed to Jupiter is incorrect. The simulations showed that Jupiter teams with Saturn to kick a significant fraction of the particles into the inner Solar System and into orbits that cross Earth's path.
He proposed that a Solar System with one or more planets similar to Jupiter located beyond the region of potential terrestrial planets is beneficial for the development of life.
Sherry L. Cady, a Chief Scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, said that in this paper, they learn that the overly simplistic 'Jupiter as shield' concept is a thing of the past and future research in this area will require the continued use of the kinds of robust simulation strategies so effectively employed in Dr. Grazier's work.
The study is published in Astrobiology.