News & AnalysisPlanetary Science

Planetary Two-Step Reshaped Solar System, Saved Earth?

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Science  10 Jun 2011:
Vol. 332, Issue 6035, pp. 1255
DOI: 10.1126/science.332.6035.1255

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Planetary scientists ponder a lot of questions about origins. Why didn't Mars grow as large as Earth and Venus? Where did the asteroid belt come from? What are Jupiter and Saturn doing so far from the sun? For that matter, why didn't Jupiter just drive Earth into the sun the way most Jupiter-like exoplanets have driven their rocky, Earth-sized neighbors into their stars? A new study that models the earliest solar system's gravitational fandango has an answer for each of those questions, and more. In the model, the solar system's fate is changed forever when Saturn snags the inrushing Jupiter and together they back off before driving the still-growing Earth into oblivion.