The formation of Jupiter by hybrid pebble–planetesimal accretion


The standard model for giant planet formation is based on the accretion of solids by a growing planetary embryo, followed by rapid gas accretion once the planet exceeds a so-called critical mass1. However, the dominant size of the accreted solids (‘pebbles’ of the order of centimetres or ‘planetesimals’ of the order of kilometres to hundreds of kilometres) is unknown1,2. Recently, high-precision measurements of isotopes in meteorites have provided evidence for the existence of two reservoirs of small bodies in the early Solar System3. These reservoirs remained separated from ~1 Myr until ~3 Myr after the Solar System started to form. This separation is interpreted as resulting from Jupiter growing and becoming a barrier for material transport. In this framework, Jupiter reached ~20 Earth masses (M) within ~1 Myr and slowly grew to ~50 M in the subsequent 2 Myr before reaching its present-day mass3. The evidence that Jupiter’s growth slowed after reaching 20 M for at least 2 Myr is puzzling because a planet of this mass is expected to trigger fast runaway gas accretion4,5. Here, we use theoretical models to describe the conditions allowing for such a slow accretion and show that Jupiter grew in three distinct phases. First, rapid pebble accretion supplied the major part of Jupiter’s core mass. Second, slow planetesimal accretion provided the energy required to hinder runaway gas accretion during the 2 Myr. Third, runaway gas accretion proceeded. Both pebbles and planetesimals therefore play an important role in Jupiter’s formation.

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Fig. 1: Time to reach 50 M as a function of the core mass at 1 Myr and the solid accretion rate (M yr−1, log scale).
Fig. 2: Accretion rate of planetesimals as a function of the solid mass fraction and the core mass at 1 Myr.
Fig. 3: The three stages of the hybrid pebble–planetesimal formation model.


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This work has been developed in the framework of the National Center for Competence in Research PlanetS funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF). Y.A., W.B. and R.B. acknowledge support from the SNSF under grant 200020_172746. C.M. acknowledges support from the SNSF under grant BSSGI0_155816 ‘PlanetsInTime’. R.H. acknowledges support from SNSF project 200021_169054. Y.A. acknowledges the support of the European Research Council under grant 239605 ‘PLANETOGENESIS’. M.S. acknowledges the support of the European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007–2013)/ERC Grant agreement no. [279779]. We thank C. Surville for sharing the results of hydrodynamic simulations of disk–planet interaction before publication.

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Y.A. initiated the project. Y.A., J.V., S.A., R.B. and L.S. performed the theoretical calculations. Y.A., J.V. and R.H. led the writing of the manuscript, and all authors contributed to the discussion and interpretation of the results.

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Correspondence to Yann Alibert.

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Alibert, Y., Venturini, J., Helled, R. et al. The formation of Jupiter by hybrid pebble–planetesimal accretion. Nat Astron 2, 873–877 (2018).

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