Dynamical Instabilities and the Formation of Extrasolar Planetary Systems

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Science  08 Nov 1996:
Vol. 274, Issue 5289, pp. 954-956
DOI: 10.1126/science.274.5289.954


The existence of a dominant massive planet, Jupiter, in our solar system, although perhaps essential for long-term dynamical stability and the development of life, may not be typical of planetary systems that form around other stars. In a system containing two Jupiter-like planets, the possibility exists that a dynamical instability will develop. Computer simulations suggest that in many cases this instability leads to the ejection of one planet while the other is left in a smaller, eccentric orbit. In extreme cases, the eccentric orbit has a small enough periastron distance that it may circularize at an orbital period as short as a few days through tidal dissipation. This may explain the recently detected Jupiter-mass planets in very tight circular orbits and wider eccentric orbits around nearby stars.