New York, Feb 13 (IANS) It was 4.6 billion years ago when an enormous cloud of hydrogen gas and dust collapsed under its own weight, eventually flattening into a disk to form the solar nebula, new research has found.
The team from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) revealed that most of this interstellar material contracted at the disk's centre to form the sun, and part of the solar nebula's remaining gas and dust condensed to form the planets and the rest of our solar system.
"So much happens right at the beginning of the solar system's history. Of course, the planets evolve after that, but the large-scale structure of the solar system was essentially established in the first four million years," said Benjamin Weiss, Professor at MIT.
The research team studied the magnetic orientations in pristine samples of ancient meteorites that formed 4.563 billion years ago, and determined that the solar nebula lasted around three to four million years.
"The gas giants Jupiter and Saturn must have formed within the first four million years of the solar system's formation," the study noted.
"Since the solar nebula lifetime critically affects the final positions of Jupiter and Saturn, it also affects the later formation of the Earth, as well as the formation of other terrestrial planets," the report added.
Scientists believe that with the knowledge of how long the solar nebula persisted, they can narrow in on how giant planets such as Jupiter and Saturn were formed.