Jupiter’s Migration Miracle

Jupiter’s Migration Miracle

A few years ago, a probe sent on a self-destruct mission into the interior of Jupiter revealed that Jupiter’s atmosphere grew dark and dry very soon after its formation.1 Continuing analysis of the data from that probe shows that Jupiter must have formed in a much colder place than where it now resides. The movement of Jupiter from its birth site to its present location, ideal for life on Earth, gives one more piece of evidence for the divine design of the solar system.

The Jupiter atmosphere probe found high levels of argon, krypton, and xenon.2 This discovery presented a problem: heat drives off these noble gases during planetary formation. Huge quantities of argon, krypton, and xenon in the present Jovian atmosphere indicate that Jupiter formed in a region with temperatures below –406 °F. Temperatures that cold exist only beyond the orbit of Pluto.

Jupiter’s cold origin means that the solar system’s largest planet must have migrated a long way, starting more than four billion miles from the Sun and ending up just 465 million miles from the Sun. There it steadily maintains a nearly circular, coplanar (aligned with the Sun’s equator) orbit. Jupiter’s great migration distance came as no surprise to planetary astronomers. Significant quantities of dust in the early solar system would have interacted with Jupiter, causing it to drift in toward the Sun.3 Indeed, nearly all of the 80 extrasolar gas giant planets discovered thus far show evidence of substantial drift from their birth sites.4

Remarkably, Jupiter drifted into exactly the right place (in distance) for life on Earth to survive. If Jupiter had drifted any closer to the Sun, its gravity would have destabilized Earth’s orbit. But, if Jupiter had stopped its drift earlier, farther out, Earth would have been bombarded frequently by killer asteroids and comets.

More amazing yet is Jupiter’s nearly circular orbit. Typically, gas giant planets drifting inward become gravitationally disturbed by other planets and nearby stars. Such disturbances increase the eccentricity (or noncircularity) of the planet’s orbit. Nearly all extrasolar planets more distant from their stars than Venus is from the Sun exhibit highly elliptical orbits.5 If Jupiter’s orbit were any more eccentric or elliptical than what it is, Earth would not remain long in its life-support zone.

Jupiter’s orbit is not only close to circular in shape, it has a tiny inclination. That is, Jupiter’s orbit nearly aligns with the Sun’s diameter. If Jupiter had even a slightly larger inclination, it would disturb Earth enough to pull it outside the zone of life support. Again, gas giant planets that experience significant drift typically do not end up with low inclinations unless they drift in closer than Venus is to the Sun (in which case no planet like Earth could avoid a catastrophic gravitational disturbance).

As noted in books and articles by RTB authors and others, dozens of features of planet Earth show signs of supernatural design.6 With each new discovery, the case for faith in the God of the Bible grows stronger. The fine-tuned features of Jupiter that make Earth a safe haven for life represent just one small but significant part of that case.

  1. Hugh Ross, “New Planets Raise New Speculations About Life Sites?” Facts & Faith 10, no. 1 (1996), 1; David J. Stevenson, “The Subtle Taste of Jupiter,” Nature 379 (1996), 495-96; Richard A. Kerr, “Galileo Hits a Strange Spot on Jupiter,” Science 271 (1996), 593-94.
  2. Tobias Owen et al., “A Low-Temperature Origin for the Planetesimals That Formed Jupiter,” Nature 402 (1999), 269-70.
  3. Adam Burrows and Jonathon Lunine, “Astronomical Questions of Origin and Survival,” Nature 378 (1995), 333.
  4. James Glanz, “Planets Remind Astronomers of Home,” Science 271 (1996), 450; Jean Schneider, Extra Solar Planets Catalog, a frequently updated Web site catalog at https://www.obspm.fr/encycl/catalog.html (accessed 8 January 2002).
  5. Schneider, Extra Solar Planets Catalog.
  6. Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos, 3d ed. (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2001), 175-99; Hugh Ross, Big Bang Refined by Fire (Pasadena, CA: Reasons To Believe, 1999), 11, 12, 18-26 ; Hugh Ross, The Fingerprint of God, 2d ed. (Orange, CA: Promise, 1991), 129-32; Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee, Rare Earth (New York: Springer-Verlag, 2000); John D. Barrow and Frank J. Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), 238-353; George Greenstein, The Symbiotic Universe, (New York: Morrow, William & Co., 1988), 67-81.