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Beyond Earthly Skies

When Giant Planets Collide

17 Feb 2013, 00:59 UTC
When Giant Planets Collide
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Giant planets like Jupiter are expected to exist around a significant fraction of stars in the galaxy. In fact, stars containing multiple giant planets in orbit around them are likely to be fairly common as well. Examples include our Sun with 2 giant planets (Jupiter and Saturn) and HR 8799 with 4 known giant planets. The process of planetary system formation around stars is a chaotic one where planets can merge with one another, fall into their host stars, get thrown out, etc. In planetary systems containing multiple giant planets, collisions between giant planets can occasionally occur. It is estimated that a few giant planet collisions are expected to happen in the galaxy each year.Figure 1: An artistic illustration of the giant planet HR 8799 b. Credit: NASA, ESA and G. Bacon (STScI).The outcome of a collision event depends on how two giant planets approach each other, their internal structure and the ratio of planet masses. There are 3 possible outcomes following the collision of two giant planets: (i) merger into a single object, (ii) grazing contact or (iii) total destruction of the planets. For the 3rd outcome to occur, the relative approach velocity during a collision event needs to ...

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