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Dynamical Models of Terrestrial Planet Formation

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We review the problem of the formation of terrestrial planets, with particular emphasis on the interaction of dynamical and geochemical models. The lifetime of gas around stars in the process of formation is limited to a few million years based on astronomical observations, while isotopic dating of meteorites and the Earth-Moon system suggest that perhaps 50–100 million years were required for the assembly of the Earth. Therefore, much of the growth of the terrestrial planets in our own system is presumed to have taken place under largely gas-free conditions, and the physics of terrestrial planet formation is dominated by gravitational interactions and collisions. The earliest phase of terrestrial-planet formation involve the growth of km-sized or larger planetesimals from dust grains, followed by the accumulations of these planetesimals into ∼100 lunar- to Mars-mass bodies that are initially gravitationally isolated from one-another in a swarm of smaller planetesimals, but eventually grow to the point of significantly perturbing one-another. The mutual perturbations between the embryos, combined with gravitational stirring by Jupiter, lead to orbital crossings and collisions that drive the growth to Earth-sized planets on a timescale of 107–108 years. Numerical treatment of this process has focussed on the use of symplectic integrators which can rapidy integrate the thousands of gravitationally-interacting bodies necessary to accurately model planetary growth. While the general nature of the terrestrial planets–their sizes and orbital parameters–seem to be broadly reproduced by the models, there are still some outstanding dynamical issues. One of these is the presence of an embryo-sized body, Mars, in our system in place of the more massive objects that simulations tend to yield. Another is the effect such impacts have on the geochemistry of the growing planets; re-equilibration of isotopic ratios of major elements during giant impacts (for example) must be considered in comparing the predicted compositions of the terrestrial planets with the geochemical data. As the dynamical models become successful in reproducing the essential aspects of our own terrestrial planet system, their utility in predicting the distribution of terrestrial planet systems around other stars, and interpreting observations of such systems, will increase.
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Document Type: Review Article

Publication date: February 1, 2011

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  • ADVANCED SCIENCE LETTERS is an international peer-reviewed journal with a very wide-ranging coverage, consolidates research activities in all areas of (1) Physical Sciences, (2) Biological Sciences, (3) Mathematical Sciences, (4) Engineering, (5) Computer and Information Sciences, and (6) Geosciences to publish original short communications, full research papers and timely brief (mini) reviews with authors photo and biography encompassing the basic and applied research and current developments in educational aspects of these scientific areas.
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