A team of researchers from NASA talked about the importance of the gas giants Saturn and Jupiter in preventing massive asteroids from hitting planets like Earth. According to the researchers, the formation of these two massive planets created a balance within the Solar System. The researchers were able to see the roles that Jupiter and Saturn play in the stability of the Solar System using computer models.

asteroid in a collision course
Representational image of asteroids approaching the earth Pixabay

Formation Of Planets In The Solar System

During the early years of the Solar System, large cosmic bodies flew around in space. Through collisions with one another, these massive objects eventually fused together to form planets and natural satellites.

Many scientists believe that this is how Earth's Moon was formed. According to the giant impact hypothesis, Earth was hit by a Mars-sized asteroid around 20 to 100 million years after the Solar System was formed. The massive collision sent huge chunks of debris into space, which eventually turned into the Moon.

Simulating the absence of Jupiter and Saturn

Through computer simulations, researchers from NASA were able to get an idea of what would happen to Earth and other planets in the Solar System if Saturn and Jupiter did not form. According to the researchers, without these two gas giants, collisions similar to the one that created the Moon would happen more frequently and at a much later date.

"If you have giant planets, your last giant impact happens somewhere between 10 and 100 million years [after planet formation], which is pretty fine — it's like what happened on Earth," Tom Barclay of NASA's Ames Research Center said according to Space.com. "If you don't have giant planets, the last giant impact can happen hundreds [of millions] to billions of years in," he continued. "This really is a risk to habitability."

Jupiter black shadow
Io shadow in Jupiter NASA / JPL-Caltech / SwRI / MSSS / Björn Jónsson

Effect of Gas Giants on Roaming Asteroids

The computer simulations also showed the researchers that due to the strong gravitational force of Saturn and Jupiter, as well as the angular momentum they added to the Solar System, the remaining massive objects got hurled into deep space, away from the planets.

This prevented a cloud filled with rocky objects from forming within the inner regions of the Solar System. In other words, without Saturn and Jupiter, Earth would have been in danger of getting frequently hit by planet-killer asteroids.