POSTED: 9:44 p.m. HST, Mar 24, 2012
Jupiter plows through the solar system like a giant vacuum cleaner, sucking up rocks and dust with its massive gravity.
That’s been going on for about 4.565 billion years, University of Hawaii scientists reckon by studying a grain of comet dust.
Particles from Comet Wild 2 were brought back to Earth by NASA’s Stardust spacecraft in 2006. One was a fragment formed by high-temperature processes in the cloud that surrounded the sun in its infancy.
Yet the comet itself formed in the frigid Kuiper Belt beyond the orbit of Neptune. So the particle must have migrated, the scientists concluded.
But that could not have happened with Jupiter blocking the way, they say.
Lab analysis led the team to conclude the fragment formed at least 3 million years after the solar system produced its first solids. That led to Jupiter’s age.
The findings by Ryan Ogliore, a researcher at the Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology, and colleagues appeared in the Feb. 1 issue of Astrophysical Journal Letters.
“That we are able to test theories about the formation time of Jupiter and, consequently, the origins of our solar system is really a testament to the importance of sample-return missions like Stardust,” Ogliore said.