The ancient Romans may have been on to something when they hailed Jupiter as the supreme god because, according to scientists in the present time, Jupiter - the planet this time, not the god - has a big influence over how life on Earth began and why humans have to adapt to the ever-changing climate.
According to several studies, Jupiter has a part in supporting life on Earth and possibly even jump-started it billions of years ago. When the whole universe was still in a hot dense state, Jupiter didn't seem to like its company so it hurled them into the sun and straight out of existence. Yes, we're still talking about the planet, not the god.
For decades it's been believed that our biggest neighboring planet, along with fellow giant, Saturn, has been protecting our solar system from rogue asteroids and massive comets called centaurs. However, studies done by various researchers seem to show that, unlike our earlier belief that Jupiter plays the hero, the Earth is actually in a possibly fatal interplanetary dodgeball game against the giant planet.
Dodgeball With Jupiter
It's not that Jupiter is aiming at Earth and seeking to destroy our planet. It's just that, unlike the earlier idea that Jupiter and the other outer planets have been protecting the inner planets from rogue celestial bodies, the truth is the opposite. According to a study, Jupiter's gravitational field is actually the reason why some centaurs get hurled towards Earth and the Earth is just lucky that none of the centaurs have had deadly effects to human life.
Gregory Laughlin, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of California, Santa Cruz and Konstantin Batygin from the Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences at the California Institute of Technology proposed that our solar system was actually composed of planets larger than Earth in its early stages but that Jupiter was responsible for sending those planets towards the sun.
A bit scary, but astronomers have yet to find evidence that Jupiter is discreetly pushing the Earth toward the sun so that may be a good sign. "Jupiter may prove to be a questionable shield, a jovian planet may be useful, instead, to deliver necessary life-enabling volatile compounds to the inner solar system," Kevin R. Grazier wrote. This brings us to the next Jupiter hypothesis.
Jupiter: Earth, I Am Your Father
In accordance with the University of Buckingham and Armagh Observatory study published on Dec. 22 in the Royal Astronomical Society's journal Astronomy & Geophysics and the proposal above, Jupiter's act of sending centaurs towards the Earth's orbit was also one of the ways how life on Earth began.
According to Grazier's study published in the journal Astrobiology, a Jupiter-Saturn team exists and it is the work of these two planets which led to the formation of our solar system as it is today. Grazier performed a series of simulations with different computations to determine whether Jupiter really acts as a shield for the inner planets or a bouncer.
His computations showed that Jupiter did throw celestial objects out of the solar system. However, it was also responsible for hurtling centaurs towards Earth. Likewise, the simulations showed that Saturn played an active role with regard to the purging of life-threatening celestial bodies.
"Without Jupiter, far fewer objects were ejected from the solar system; without Saturn, far fewer objects were perturbed into Jupiter's path. Though Jupiter has primarily been credited with clearing of the outer solar system, Saturn was an important accomplice," Grazier concluded.
Jupiter's Effect On Earth's Climate
This part is mostly hypothetical since the simulations that Jonathan Horner, Dave Waltham and F. Elliot Koch did involve repositioning Jupiter. Specifically, the team wanted to determine what would happen if Jupiter had an eccentric orbit, or an orbit that is more like a circle than an ellipse.
The result is that the position of Jupiter had little effect over Earth's Milankovitch cycles, or the variations in Earth's orbit and tilt that result in changes in climate. However, the limitations they set for their research, that is, charting results at 100-year intervals for only a span of a million years, may have affected the outcome.
The team believes that a longer time period for the simulation may indicate more accurate results. Waltham is looking forward to patching up the discrepancy that was formed between his old research and the new results.
So What Does It Mean For The Earth?
Well, for one thing, it gives our solar system a huge boost in morale to know that we're really quite unique. For another, it gives us a clearer idea of how our solar system actually works. Sure, we know that Mars is red, Saturn clearly isn't single because someone or something put a ring on it and that planets can also be bullied just like what scientists did to Pluto, but what these studies about Jupiter show us is that our solar system isn't just a bunch of giant rocks in space and that, one way or another, each has a purpose for the other.