Drifting Giants Highlight Jupiter’s Uniqueness

Astronomer’s understanding of monster planets, formerly based on their observations of just one, Jupiter, has been substantially altered by recent discoveries. Researchers have found five more astronomical bodies, 1-3 in addition to the four I reported on earlier this year, 4 that may by monster planets. Because the detection technique determines lower mass limits only, we cannot say with certainty that these objects are planets. We know only that they either resemble Jupiter in mass or they are more massive, perhaps even massive enough to earn the "brown dwarf star" label.

Whateve the case, the discovery has brought some surprises, most importantly for Christians, indicators that Jupiter, with its various Earth-life protective features, may be unique among such planets. Eight of the nine bodies observed orbit their stars closely—five times more closely than Mercury orbits the sun, one at about Venus’ distance, one at Earth’s, and another slightly beyond Mars’. The one planet that does orbit at a distance similar to Jupiter’s actually orbits a pair of stars, one medium-sized and one small, and another large "planet" orbits the same pair but much closer in. (This particular example appears to destroy the idea that planets cannot orbit binary stars, but because of the characteristics of such orbital systems, it does not life the probability above zero for finding life-support planets orbiting binary or multiple star systems. 5)

What we know about planet formation suggests that eight (or all) of the nine planets must have drifted inward from their site of origin. 6 The forces involved in this drifting would destroy the possibility for life on any planet in that orbital system. For if a right-sized (for life) planet happened to exist in the right proximity to a right-sized, right-aged star, the gravity of the huge drifter would disturb such a planet’s orbit radically enough to eliminate the potential for life there. Furthermore, the essential protection (from asteroid, comet, and other impacts) that a monster outer planet provides would be missing. 7,8

In other words, these latest finding suggest that wherever large planets exist, they are likely to form far from the star and move close before establishing orbital equilibrium. But since this probable scenario would prove destructive to life, evidence for the divine design of our solar system seems to have advanced another step.

References

  1. Christopher F. Chyba, "Life Beyond Mars," Nature, volume 382 (1996), p. 577.
  2. Paul Hoersten, "Unlikely Planet Found," USA Today, October 24, 1996, pp. A1, A3.
  3. Kathy Sawyer, "Orbit Path of New Planet Egg-Shaped," Denver Post, October 24, 1996, p. 6A.
  4. Hugh Ross, "New Planets Raise Unwarranted Speculation About Life," Facts & Faith, volume 10, number 1 (1996), pp. 1-3.
  5. Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos, second edition (Colorado Springs, Colo.: NavPress, 1995), pp. 134, 139.
  6. Adam Burrows and Jonathan Lumine, 7quot;Astronomical Questions of Origin and Survival," Nature, volume 378 (1995), p. 333.
  7. Hugh Ross, "Jupiter’s Stability," Facts & Faith, volume 8, number 3, (1994), pp. 1-2.
  8. Hugh Ross, "Computer Models Reveal New Evidence of God’s Care," Facts & Faith, volume 7, number 3 (1993), pp. 1-2.

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