Research Articles

Occurrence of Earth-Like Bodies in Planetary Systems

Science  02 Aug 1991:
Vol. 253, Issue 5019, pp. 535-538
DOI: 10.1126/science.253.5019.535


Present theories of terrestrial planet formation predict the rapid ``runaway formation'' of planetary embryos. The sizes of the embryos increase with heliocentric distance. These embryos then merge to form planets. In earlier Monte Carlo simulations of the merger of these embryos it was assumed that embryos did not form in the asteroid belt, but this assumption may not be valid. Simulations in which runaways were allowed to form in the asteroid belt show that, although the initial distributions of mass, energy, and angular momentum are different from those observed today, during the growth of the planets these distributions spontaneously evolve toward those observed, simply as a result of known solar system processes. Even when a large planet analogous to ``Jupiter'' does not form, an Earth-sized planet is almost always found near Earth's heliocentric distance. These results suggest that occurrence of Earth-like planets may be a common feature of planetary systems.