News FocusSolar System Evolution

Shifting Orbits Gave Solar System A Big Shakeup, Model Suggests

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Science  17 Jul 2009:
Vol. 325, Issue 5938, pp. 262-263
DOI: 10.1126/science.325_262

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Planetary scientists are finding that the four outermost planets of our solar system haven't always been orbiting where they are today. They've moved, some a considerable distance outward. The most catastrophic scenario for such planet migration, dubbed the Nice model (after the French city), has been gaining ground of late. It envisions the great reshuffling as a brief, violent affair that not only put the outer planets where they are today but also created the Kuiper belt of small icy bodies beyond Neptune, gave the planets scores of oddly orbiting moons, and bombarded the solar system with a rain of asteroids and comets so fierce that it would have cooked all but the deepest subterranean life on early Earth. The latest support for the Nice model, a new explanation for primitive-looking asteroids, appears this week in Nature. But the model has more hurdles to clear, such as explaining why the innermost planets—Earth and its neighbors—weren't reshuffled as well.