"Hot Jupiters" Could Give Rise to Earthlike Worlds, Study Says

September 7, 2006

It's more likely than ever that we are not alone in the universe, new research suggests.

The latest computer models are telling scientists that more than a third of the star systems containing Jupiterlike gas giants may also harbor Earthlike planets.

These so-called habitable exoplanets could be awash in oceans of liquid water, which means they might support life (related news: "Are Neighborhood Aliens Listening to Earth Radio?" [September 7, 2006]).

The latest work focuses on a type of star system that contains gas giants known as hot Jupiters.

Unlike gas giants in our solar system, hot Jupiters have orbits that swing tightly around their stars, says Sean Raymond, study co-author and astrophysicist at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

Scientists believe that hot Jupiters initially form far from their host stars. Over time the gas giants migrate inward due to the irregular twisting motions of the gaseous disks in which they formed.

As they move into their near-star orbits, hot Jupiters could be playing violent games of planetary billiards that produce Earthlike planets, he says.

Big Bullies

In general, massive gas giants have a reputation for slinging things around in space.

Our Jupiter (Hubble image) is capable of hurling asteroids out of the solar system or into the sun and other planets by the sheer force of its gravity.

"These gas giants cause quite a ruckus," Raymond said.

Ten years ago, when scientists detected the first hot Jupiter, they assumed that as the giant exoplanets plowed through debris during their inward migrations, any surrounding material would be similarly ejected.

Continued on Next Page >>


SOURCES AND RELATED WEB SITES

ADVERTISEMENT

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC'S PHOTO OF THE DAY

NEWS FEEDS     After installing a news reader, click on this icon to download National Geographic News's XML/RSS feed.   After installing a news reader, click on this icon to download National Geographic News's XML/RSS feed.

Get our news delivered directly to your desktop—free.
How to Use XML or RSS

National Geographic Daily News To-Go

Listen to your favorite National Geographic news daily, anytime, anywhere from your mobile phone. No wires or syncing. Download Stitcher free today.
Click here to get 12 months of National Geographic Magazine for $15.