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New Study: Sun Prevented Earth from Becoming ‘Super-Earth’

New Study: Sun Prevented Earth from Becoming ‘Super-Earth’

Wednesday, 12 January, 2022 - 07:30
View of the earth photographed from the Apollo XI spacecraft as it approached the Earth on its return from the moon on July 24, 1969. AFP PHOTO/FILES/NASA/HO

Prior to the existence of the Earth and other planets of our solar system, the Sun could have been surrounded by giant dust-like rings of Saturn. These dust rings may have prevented the Earth from becoming a “super-Earth,” according to a new study published in the latest issue of the journal Nature Astronomy.

A “super-Earth” is a type of planet that is about twice the size of Earth and 10 times its mass. Astronomers have discovered superpowers orbiting about 30 percent of the Sun-like stars in our galaxy.

The emergence of super-Earths in many other solar systems has left astronomers with some unanswered questions: “If super-Earths are extraordinary, why don’t we have one in the solar system?”

To find out, Andre Isidore, an astrophysicist from Rice University in Houston, and his team created a computer simulation model of the formation of the solar system, which emerged from the ashes of a cloud of dust and gas known as the solar nebula.

Their simulations suggested that “blows” of pressure or areas of high-pressure gas and dust would surround the baby Sun. These high-pressure areas probably formed when particles moved toward the Sun under its strong gravitational pull, heating up and emitting large amounts of evaporated gas.

The simulation showed that there were probably three different areas where the solids evaporated into a gas called “sublimation lines”: in the line closest to the Sun, the middle, and on the farthest line. The simulation showed that solid particles, like dust, kind of rammed into these “bundles” and began to accumulate.

“The effect of pressure is that it collects dust particles, and that’s why we see rings. If these pressure surges did not exist, the Sun would quickly absorb particles without leaving the planets to grow,” said co-author Andrea Isella, an associate professor of physics and astronomy at Rice University in a report by the Science Alert website.

With age, the gas and dust around the Sun cooled, and sublimation lines approached the Sun, she added. This process allowed dust to accumulate in planetesimals or seeds of planets the size of an asteroid that could then merge into planets, and this prevented the formation of the super-Earth.

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