Planetary formation theory in chaos


Three known planets of the star HR8799 (the light from the star has been blotted out)

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Palomar Observatory

Astrophysicists, are being ‘knocked into a cocked hat’ by the results from the planet-finding Kepler space observatory. Almost a thousand new ‘exo-planets’ have been confirmed and another four thousand candidates are waiting to be assessed.

So what’s the problem? Well, the original theory of planet formation was derived to explain the only system we knew of at the time—our own. When others were being discovered astronomers expected them to be at least somewhat like our own. That hope has been dashed. The more planetary systems we find, the more our own world stands out as the exception rather than the rule. Naturalism is no great friend of novelty—it likes to see one theory explain all. Weird worlds require weird explanations, and the more the weirdness mounts up the less and less explanatory power remains in the conventional theory. They now have a “mess of models, which have grown almost as exotic and plentiful as the planets they seek to explain.”1

Kepler’s results so far show that exo-planets fall into three main categories: (i) hot Jupiters; (ii) giant planets with weird orbits; and (iii) super-Earths. Super-Earths are generally found in compact systems of two to four planets each, some of them orbiting their stars at ‘impossibly’ close distances with ‘yearly’ orbit periods ranging over 100 days down to just hours. Super-Earths orbit at least 40% of all nearby Sun-like stars, which makes them the most common type of exo-planet found. The long-period eccentric giants make up about 10% and the hot Jupiter ‘freaks’ make up less than 1%. That means about 50% of Sun-like stars have planets. Space technology will improve in the future so who knows—perhaps planets will be found around all stars!

We must leave the experts to fight over what this all means, but one thing is obvious—the original theory of planet formation, that they formed by the slow accumulation (‘accretion’) of dust particles orbiting a new star, is clearly wrong. Any honest expert could have told us that because it was already well known that the ‘accretion’ theory didn’t have a workable mechanism. The dust grains that are said to have formed the rocky planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars) in the naturalistic scenario are extremely tiny and they have to stick together in some way until they grow to kilometre-sized ‘planetesimals’ when gravity then becomes strong enough to take over and build them larger.

Here is the stated rationale for a workshop on the subject in 2006: “The formation of terrestrial planets and the rocky cores of gas giant planets is one of the key questions in astrophysics. The first step in this process is the coagulation of dust: the growth from sub-micron dust particles to ever larger aggregates ultimately leading to the formation of multi-kilometer sized ‘planetesimals’. Once these planetesimals are formed, gravitational interaction starts to dominate over all other forces, and eventually leads to the formation of rocky planets. The workshop focuses on the first stage (the growth of dust to planetesimals). This stage still suffers from a large number of unsolved mysteries … Among them are the seemingly unsurmountable ‘meter-size barrier’ for the growth of particles.”2 And here is the summary statement after a workshop in 2010—under the heading “Accretion Unknowns” are the words: “How are planetesimal bodies formed?”3

Enough said. The original theory was wrong. There is no reason to expect it to improve when more planetary systems are added to the catalogue. The only thing that is in ‘a mess’ over these new discoveries is naturalism.

The truth is being revealed: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” Psalm 19:1.

Published: 19 July 2014

References and notes

  1. Finkbeiner, A., Planets in chaos, Nature 511:22–24, 2014. Return to text.
  2. From Dust to Planetesimals, Workshop at Ringberg Castle, Germany, 2006. http://archive.today/aYrY, 8 July 2014. Return to text.
  3. Ormel, C.W., Overview of Planetesimal Accretion, German-Japanese Workshop, Jena, 2010.
  4. http://www.astro.uni-jena.de/~theory/DIPS/talks/ormel.pdf 8 July 2014. Return to text.

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