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Origin of the orbital architecture of the giant planets of the Solar System


Planetary formation theories1,2 suggest that the giant planets formed on circular and coplanar orbits. The eccentricities of Jupiter, Saturn and Uranus, however, reach values of 6 per cent, 9 per cent and 8 per cent, respectively. In addition, the inclinations of the orbital planes of Saturn, Uranus and Neptune take maximum values of 2 degrees with respect to the mean orbital plane of Jupiter. Existing models for the excitation of the eccentricity of extrasolar giant planets3,4,5 have not been successfully applied to the Solar System. Here we show that a planetary system with initial quasi-circular, coplanar orbits would have evolved to the current orbital configuration, provided that Jupiter and Saturn crossed their 1:2 orbital resonance. We show that this resonance crossing could have occurred as the giant planets migrated owing to their interaction with a disk of planetesimals6,7. Our model reproduces all the important characteristics of the giant planets' orbits, namely their final semimajor axes, eccentricities and mutual inclinations.

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Figure 1: Orbital evolution of the giant planets.
Figure 2: Comparison of our synthetic final planetary systems with the outer Solar System.


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R.G. is grateful to the Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico for financial support of his sabbatical year in the OCA observatory in Nice. The work of K.T. was supported by an EC Marie Curie Individual Fellowship. A.M. and H.F.L. thank the CNRS and the NSF for funding the collaboration between the OCA and the SwRI groups. H.F.L. is grateful to NASA's Origins and PG&G programmes.

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Correspondence to A. Morbidelli.

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Supplementary Discussion

A detailed illustration of the 1:2 MMR crossing of Jupiter and Saturn. This file also includes Supplementary Figure S1. (PDF 1509 kb)

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Tsiganis, K., Gomes, R., Morbidelli, A. et al. Origin of the orbital architecture of the giant planets of the Solar System. Nature 435, 459–461 (2005).

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