Understanding how planets form in the Universe is one of the main motivations for GPI. Thanks to its advanced design, GPI specializes in finding and studying giant planets that are similar to Jupiter in our solar system. These are the kind of planets whose origin we hope to understand much better after our survey is complete.
This artist’s impression shows the formation of a gas giant planet around a young star. Credit: ESO/L. Calçada
We know that planets form within protoplanetary disks that orbit young stars, and gas giants need to be fully formed within 3-10 million years of the formation of their parent star as the gaseous nebula dissipates past this point. This very important time constraint is based on statistics of observed protoplanetary disks in nearby young stellar associations such as Taurus. At present there are two main rival theories of giant planet formation — core accretion and gravitational instability, which effectively represent the “bottom up” and “top down” routes to planetary genesis.
Core accretion relies on the formation of a planetary core — a compact, massive object composed of refractory elements, similar to a terrestrial planet like Earth but typically more massive. Cores form by assembly of ...