Jupiter: The reason for life on Earth?

Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system. It is so massive that we can fit around 1,300 Earths inside it! Yeah, it’s huge. Some scientists believe that the big brother Jupiter is the reason why life was possible on Earth.

To understand the role Jupiter might have played in the formation of life on Earth, we must take a step back and think about what Earth actually is. We live on a space rock floating around a burning mass of gas that we call the Sun. The problem is space rocks could be anywhere and whenever they cross the same orbit, there is always a chance of devastating collision.

For life to thrive, a planet first needs stability. Preferably it should be the only space rock in the orbit that it revolves in.

Different theories exist that explain how Jupiter helped the formation of life.

One of them is centered around Jupiter’s immense gravity (thanks to its gigantic size). As we saw earlier, there are a lot of space rocks out there. Turns out the presence of Jupiter as the fifth planet in our system deflects most of the asteroids and other celestial bodies coming into the interior of the Solar System. Under the influence of Jupiter, these rocks are slingshotted into an entirely different direction or end up falling into Jupiter itself. Jupiter bears many marks for taking these celestial hits.

This “protection” from collisions helped Earth stay safe, and allowed life to develop naturally here. If there was no Jupiter around, many of these fast-moving ice balls would have collided with Earth more frequently, thus destabilizing the planet. Our Earth would have also become just like all other lifeless planets out there.

Another theory that exists goes to a time even before the formation of second-generation planets. Here scientists compared the Solar System with other multi-planetary systems to figure out what made us so special. These systems had few Super-Earths – larger than us but smaller than our gas giants. They were closer to their stars, more closer than how Mercury is to our Sun.

These scientists believe that gas Giants such as Jupiter have played a vital role in structuring the Solar system as we see it today. Sometime in the past, Jupiter traveled towards the sun, causing it to collide with multiple planets that existed then. These catastrophic collisions did two things – created the smaller planets that we see today in the inner belt, while Jupiter absorbed most of the other flying bodies in the area. By the time Saturn was forming, Jupiter retreated back to its current position, thus stabilizing the solar system.

Jupiter’s presence limited the collision period to somewhere around 10 to 100 million years from the time planets were formed. Researchers argue that if Jupiter was not present these collisions would have been more frequent and might still continue even now. The angular momentum that Jupiter and other gas giants added to the solar system either threw the space objects out or allowed them to settle into existing planets faster.

So is Jupiter our eternal protector?
Well, yes and no. Yes because of all the reasons above. But then there are instances where asteroids are thrown into our direction because of the presence of Jupiter. Back in 1770, there was a close encounter for us when a Comet called Lexell came as close as 1 AU after being diverted towards the Sun by Jupiter 3 years earlier. It was as if Jupiter took a shot at us and missed!

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