back to article Giant planet pileups in far-flung star systems: Computer says yes

Top brainboxes armed with a British supercomputer say that they've cracked the riddle of just why it is that massive planets - spied across the vasty interstellar gulfs in recent times - tend to prefer certain orbits around their faraway parent stars. "Our models offer a plausible explanation for the pile-ups of giant planets …


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  1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge


    I doubt this simulation will be the last word, but for now it explains the data quite well. Of course, the observational bias will also be there, but that does not mean the effects simulated do not exist. It does make the "habitable moon scenario" seen in star wars more likely. Whether they are inhabited by bear-like creature who using stone-age technology defeat an army equipped with technology as advanced as faster than light travel is another matter entirely (although the movie did show the physical disadvantages of walking tanks with a comparatively narrow spacing between the legs compared to the height of its centre of mass)

    1. Lee Dowling Silver badge

      Re: Interesting

      I consider the Ewoks to be primitive, evil aliens like those in Alien.

      No technology. No fanciness. Just sheer weight of numbers. It doesn't matter what guns you bring, they'll get you.

      But all highly-sophisticated technological systems have some quite basic flaws that people don't notice until years later. That's true even today. Fingerprint scanners defeated by Gummi Bears (Ewoks again! In jelly form! All they need is acid for blood...). Chip & PIN defeated by fake C&P terminals. NFC passports stymied by a Pringles cantenna and a bit of maths. Self-drive "accident-proof" cars that crash 3 out of 4 times in simple demos.

      1. TeeCee Gold badge

        Re: Interesting

        Very true, Battle of the Teutoberg Forest is a good example.

        Three Legions of the shithottest troops of the most advanced professional army in the western hemisphere, equipped with every bit of advanced military kit available at the time, butchered by hordes of Germanic tribesmen.

        Give the locals vast numeric superiority and their choice of terrain to fight in and it tends to go badly for the big boys. Add a healthy dose of overconfidence and sense of superiority to the "better" army and an embarassing defeat is assured.

      2. This post has been deleted by its author

      3. James Micallef Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Interesting

        "I consider the Ewoks to be primitive, evil aliens like those in Alien"

        Spot on, after all if it weren't for their golden god, they were going to cook and eat our heroes... so only marginally more civilised than a xenomorph who seems to prefer it's meat raw

    2. Andy Farley

      Re: Interesting

      I'd love to see the battle shown from the Empire’s point of view: guy drafted into the Stormtroopers, goes “in country” with his buddies, only to see them all taken down one-by-one by furry little bastards who live beyond the wire. With a kicking soundtrack – Fortunate son, Wipeout & finally The End.

      Instant classic.

  2. Winkypop Silver badge

    Mind the gap

    How universally true!

  3. NomNomNom

    "This happens because as the star draws in material from the protoplanetary disk, the planets are dragged along, like a celebrity caught in a crowd of fans."

    This is the first time an analogy designed to simplify what is being described has achieved a catastrophic opposite effect on me.

    I was flying through the article until I hit the part about a celebrity and for some reason I just couldn't process it. I had a brain freeze trying to figure out how that analogy fit and why it was used. By the time I realized I was wasting my time I had forgotten the first part, the actual point, and had to read it again but then my mind was in too much disarray to continue.

    The whole experience has left me mentally exhausted and my brain out of kilter with a runaway task still mulling over the potential destructive nature of analogies.

    I thought discussing this would help but it hasn't. I think I will have a lie down.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge


      You should sue the living daylights out that astro dude! Quatronic damages!

    2. TeeCee Gold badge

      If it helps, imagine "celebrity" to be used as in: "I'm a celebrity, get...." and that all the fans have very sharp blades.

      The analogy still doesn't work, but it'll cheer you up and take the headache away.

    3. Steve Knox

      "The whole experience has left me mentally exhausted and my brain out of kilter with a runaway task still mulling over the potential destructive nature of analogies."

      Ah, like a celebrity caught in a crowd of fans!

  4. maccy

    The Fermi paradox.

    So is this why there's no-one out there? Earthlike worlds at 1 AU are a rarity, because all the good orbital zones are taken up by some fatty bastard, farting methane and sweating.

    1. Quantum Leaper

      Re: The Fermi paradox.

      In the Universe one is unique and two is common, just because if haven't on a planet like ours yet doesn't it a rarity. We just have to keep looking and we haven't found many that the planet is about Earth size anyway.

    2. Nigel 11

      Re: The Fermi paradox.

      Large moons around gas giants seem common. (Several in our Solar system). Gas giants in the habitable zone seem common (many such exoplanets detected).

      Surely the deduction is that ET is more likely to be living on a large moon than a small planet.

      Also there's no problem I can think of with life evolving on (or in) a suitably warm gas-giant. It's thought that Earth's original atmosphere was much like Jupiter's is today. It's even possible that some day we'll discover high-pressure-tolerant life under Jupiter's clouds (Jupiter gets warmer the deeper you go). Speculating, I'd agree that it might be hard for such life to attain technology, for lack of anything solid to lay its (presumably non-existent) hands on.

  5. Shakje


    Clearly models can't be used to say anything because scientists are creating the model subjectively and fitting the data that they want it to, GIGO is what I say.

    Oh wait, it's not about climate science.

  6. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

    Hold on a bit...

    Isn't that gas and dust that slows these proto-planets down orbiting the parent star at the same rate as the planets forming from it? Otherwise, it would itself be falling towards the star. If orbiting at the same speed, how can it exert drag?

    A celebrity-involving analogy would be the aforementioned sleb trying to get away for the papparazzi in their car, and the papparazzi keeping pace with them on motorbikes but neither slowing the other down.

    1. Steve Knox

      Re: Hold on a bit...

      I believe you'll find each bit is orbiting at its own rate, and falling toward the star at its own rate, the whole system being perturbed by the interplay between the solar wind and gravity.

      Remembering, this is happening during system formation, when stable orbits have not yet been established.

    2. The Original Cactus

      Re: Hold on a bit...

      "...the aforementioned sleb trying to get away for the papparazzi in their car, and the papparazzi keeping pace with them on motorbikes..."

      That would be tastelessly close to the "pileup" mentioned in the headline.

    3. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

      Re: Hold on a bit...

      It's complicated. I'm not an expert but I think the idea is that the gas giant swallows material that is closer to the star than itself, but is pulled closer to the star as it does this. Or, to look at it another way, you start with a gas giant a long way from the star, and a bunch of mass in the planetary disc, and you end up with a fat gas giant containing the planetary disc mass. It stops, mostly, when the star lights up, generates a solar wind, and blows the leftover gas out of the star system. The solar wind itself of course has outwards momentum.

      I have previously heard arguments based on claimed computer simulations that this is how planet systems are often built, and that in our system, the gas giants interfered with each other and left the inner system for rocky planets.

      It is reasonable to assume that the Solar System is a typical system of star and planets, but it is also reasonable to assume that some star systems have no planets where life can exist, and some star systems have habitable planets, and the Solar System is only typical of the second kind.

      There's also an argument that the Earth has an unusually big fat Moon and that this has helped us in some ways. There was a discarded theory that the Moon removes some of Earth's atmosphere and without it, the heatland pressure on Earth's surface would be nearly as much as on Venus. Wrong, apparently, but that's the sort of thing. Current fashionable theory is that Earth version 1.0 formed alongside a Mars-sized Trojan orbital companion which then got unstuck and hit the bigger world, and we're living on Earth 1.1 which contains material from both, especially the iron core - I'm not inventing this but I'm interpreting it creatively - and the Moon is made of ejected crust material, but not right away. One thing we get from that may be t!a particularly good protective magnetic field. Apparently in more simulations all of this is quite a common event too, so there may be more rocky planets with big moons around other stars where we could look for life.

      For five-sixths of Earth's existence so far, there was basically nothing more sophisticated than slime living here, so we may be disappointed by what we find.

  7. Blunderbuss

    AU - Astronomical Units

    Could we have the measurements in more meaningful El Reg units please rather than AUs?

    Double decker busses / Elephants ?

    1. arrbee

      Re: AU - Astronomical Units

      You have to remember that "astronomical" => f'ing ginormous, so if your base unit is elephants then your AU equivalent should be "1 trillion elephants".

      As another example, £ 1 AU = the amount taken from us to give to UK banks (to date)

  8. John I'm only dancing


    "Here on the Reg farflung-planets-glimpsed-across-the-vasty-gulfs-of-interstellar-space desk"

    I didn't realise El Reg had so many fields of expertise.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Comp Sigh

    "...British supercomputer..."

    ZX Spectrum or BBC Model B?

  10. Max Jalil

    Not quite...

    I believe the planets fall inwards whilst they are orbiting within the gas field (due to drag) then when they enter the clear area they continue orbiting in this area as there is no drag!

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