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Ping Pong with the planets

9 March 2015

At www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-31664162 … rogue planets are forcing astronomers into a rethink of the birth of our solar system. Planetary pin balls are on the table – and are seriously being aired as a subject for discussion.

The change in heart and mind has come about as a result of the hunt for exo-planets. Astronomers have been seeking them out as they may harbour life – or that is the hope. The search is on for a planet in an Earth like orbit in an Earth like solar system arrangement.

Dr Christopher Watson from Queens University in Belfast is a leading researcher on expo-planets and he theorises that planets can move away from their suns, or move in closer to their suns. These orbital changes are being foisted on them by what they have discovered – planets orbiting very closely to their suns. It is thought it is impossible planets could have evolved in such close proximity to their suns which implies they have changed orbit since they came into being – and what is good for exo-planets is obviously equally likely to have happened closer to home. So, the old consensus idea that the planets have a fixed orbit, a never changing uniformitarian wheel of fortune, seems to be on par to being ditched. Not too publicly of course – and suitably defined as early solar system.

It seems there is no longer any such thing as a fixed and stable orbit of the planets – even in our own solar system. Order has deteriorated into chaos. The idea that planets were formed where they are now situated has ruled the roost for a long time – and any transgression from this point of view was treated with abject derision. The idea that planets may have been formed at different periods of time has yet to be seriously considered – there are as yet no signs that even this heresy may be about to be dusted down and brought back to life. That is a step too far at the moment – but it will come into focus as research on exo-planets continues. The reason is that currently the consensus view is that the planets formed out of the left overs of the dust and gas when  the Sun burst into life. However, if one thinks in terms of the Sun periodically flaring up and then there is a hypothetical possibility planets could form later in the history of the solar system – quite apart from the fact that planets could have been captured from outside the solar system.

It has been assumed the solar system has been largely stable for 4 billion years and more and the stability allowed life to form on Earth, and develop (taking into account the odd hiccup such as mass extinction events). Yet, our solar system harbours surprises. Mars is not the size it should be, for example, and the asteroid belt is divided into two bands. The inner band is composed of rocky material and the outer band from icy lumps. These are due to phases of chaos in the solar system which are only now being investigated by mainstream astronomers. Some of them are now talking in terms of upheavals in the solar system – involving Jupiter. This large gas giant seems to get the blame for a lot of things and in this instance he is supposed to have mauled Mars after adopting an errant orbit and ran wildly through the solar system pushing and shoving and generally causing turmoil. It sounds Velikovskian. Perhaps today's astronomers have never read Velikovsky and do not realise they are playing around on the hot cinders of past controversies. Further, they are not thinking in terms of a single burst of violence and upheaval – but are opening up possibilities involving several such episodes.

Of course, none of this is visualised as a recent event. It is all being pushed back into the remote past. It is necessary for them to think in terms of a long period of stability for life to evolve and for geochronology to slowly and inexorably create all those lovely sedimentary formations, a largely uniformitarian time scale that is locked into the consensus group think. Still, first things first – who knows what will follow from the idea of a chaotic solar system.

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