Moon and Saturn

StarDate logo
Moon and Saturn

The solar system is pretty settled. The planets appear to be following orbits that have remained stable for billions of years. But in the early days, things might have been a lot more chaotic. According to one model, in fact, the giant planets Jupiter and Saturn might have moved much closer to the Sun before they moved back out again.

The planets probably took shape from a disk of gas and dust around the Sun. Small bits of material stuck together to make bigger bits, all the way up to planets. But much of the material remained free. There was enough of it to exert both a drag and a pull on the giant planets.

In this model, Jupiter — the Sun’s heaviest planet — was born at about two-thirds of its present distance from the Sun. It quickly moved inward, though, all the way to the orbit of Mars. Saturn — the second-most-massive planet — was dragged inward as well. Jupiter and Saturn thinned out the supply of gas and dust and the leftover planetary building blocks — either by scooping them up or kicking them away from the Sun. That changed the gravitational balance of the solar system. Jupiter and Saturn moved outward — settling into their current stable orbits around the Sun.

Saturn is in the dawn sky now, and looks like a bright golden star. Unlike a star, though, it doesn’t twinkle — its light holds steady. Tomorrow, it will stand close to the left of the Moon. The Moon will pass between Saturn and Mars the next morning; more about that tomorrow.

Script by Damond Benningfield

Shopping Cart
Scroll to Top