Sunday, December 18, 2011

Is Jupiter Eating Its Own Heart?

on 16 December 2011, 5:16 PM | 0 Comments
Core problem. Jupiter's central core is eroding, but no one knows how fast.
Credit: Voyager 2/NASA/JPL/USGS
Jupiter is the victim of its own success. Sophisticated new calculations indicate that our solar system's largest planet, which weighs more than twice as much as all of the others put together, has destroyed part of its central core. Ironically, the culprit is the very hydrogen and helium that made Jupiter a gas giant, when the core's gravity attracted these elements as the planet formed. The finding suggests that the most massive extrasolar planets have no cores at all.
Astronomers call Jupiter a gas giant because it consists mostly of hydrogen and helium, which are gases on Earth. On Jupiter, however, enormous pressure from the planet's gravity squeezes most of the hydrogen into a metallic fluid that conducts electricity. The hydrogen and helium surround a central core made of iron, rock, and ice. The core, which weighs roughly 10 times as much as Earth, is a small component in a planet that weighs 318 Earths.



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