Evidence that the Standard Theory of Planetary Formation is Wrong.

Every now and again, something happens that makes you feel both good and depressed at the same time. For me it was last week, when I looked up the then latest edition of Nature. There were two papers (Nature, vol 541 (Dauphas, pp 521 – 524; Fischer-Gödde and Kleine, pp 525 – 527) that falsified two of the most important propositions in the standard theory of planetary formation. What we actually know is that stars accrete from a disk of gas and dust, the disk lingers on for between a million years and 30 million years, depending on the star, then the star’s solar winds clear out the dust and gas. Somewhere in there, planets form. We can see evidence of gas giants growing, where the gas is falling into the giant planet, but the process by which smaller planets or the cores of giants form is unobservable because the bodies are too small, and the dust too opaque. Accordingly, we can only form theories to fill in the intermediate process. The standard theory, also called oligarchic growth, explains planetary formation in terms of dust accreting to planetesimals by some unknown mechanism, then these collide to form embryos, which in turn formed oligarchs or protoplanets (Mars sized objects) and these collided to form planets. If this happened, they would do a lot of bouncing around and everything would get well-mixed. Standard computer simulations argue that Earth would have formed from a distribution of matter from further out than Mars to inside Mercury’s orbit. Earth the gets its water from a “late veneer” from carbonaceous chondrites from the far side of the asteroid belt.

It is also well known that certain elements in bodies in the solar system have isotopes that vary their ratio depending on the distance from the star. Thus meteorites from Mars have different isotope ratios from meteorites from the asteroid belt, and again both are different from rocks from Earth and Moon. The cause of this isotope difference is unclear, but it is an established fact. This is where those two papers come in.

Dauphas showed that Earth accreted from a reasonably narrow zone throughout its entire accretion time. Furthermore, that zone was the same as that which formed enstatite chondrites, which appear to have originated from a region that was much hotter than the material that, say, formed Mars. Thus enstatite chondrites are reduced. What that means is that their chemistry was such that there was less oxygen. Mars has only a small iron core, and most of its iron is as iron oxide. Enstatite chondrites have free iron as iron, and, of course, Earth has a very large iron core. Enstatite chondrites also contain silicates with less magnesium, which will occur when the temperatures were too hot to crystallize out forsterite. (Forsterite melts at 1890 degrees C, but it will also dissolve to some extent in silica melts at lower temperatures.) Enstatite chondrites also are amongst the driest, so they did not provide Earth’s water.

Fischer-Gödde and Kleine showed that most of Earth’s water did not come from carbonaceous chondrites, the reason being, if it did, the non-water part would have added about 5% to the mass of Earth, and the last 5% is supposed to be from where the bulk of elements that dissolve in hot iron would have come from. The amounts arriving earlier would have dissolved in the iron and gone to the core. One of those elements is ruthenium, and the isotope ratios of Earth’s ruthenium rule out an origin from the asteroid belt.

Accordingly, this evidence rules out oligarchic growth. There used to be an alternative theory of planetary accretion called monarchic growth, but this was soon abandoned because it cannot explain first why we have the number of planets we have where they are, and second where our water came from. Calculations show it is possible to have three to five planets in stable orbit between Earth and Mars, assuming none are larger than Earth, and more out to the asteroid belt. But they are not there, so the question is, if planets only grow from a narrow zone, why are these zones empty?

This is where I felt good. A few years ago I published an ebook called “Planetary Formation and Biogenesis” and it required monarchic growth. It also required the planets in our solar system to be roughly where they are, at least until they get big enough to play gravitational billiards. The mechanism is that the planets accreted in zones where the chemistry of the matter permitted accretion, and that in turn was temperature dependent, so specific sorts of planets form in zones at specific distances from the star. Earth formed by accretion of rocks formed during the hot stage, and being in a zone near that which formed enstatite chondrites, the iron was present as a metal, which is why Earth has an iron core. The reason Earth has so much water is that accretion occurred from rocks that had been heat treated to about 1550 degrees Centigrade, in which case certain aluminosilicates phase separated out. These, when they take up water, form cement that binds other rocks to form a concrete. As far as I am aware, my theory is the only current one that requires these results.

So, why do I feel depressed? My ebook contained a review of over 600 references from journals until a few months before the ebook was published. The problem is, these references, if properly analysed, provided papers with plenty of evidence that these two standard theories were wrong, but each of the papers’ conclusions were ignored. In particular, there was a more convincing paper back in 2002 (Drake and Righter, Nature 416: 39-44) that came to exactly the same conclusions. As an example, to eliminate carbonaceous chondrites as the source of water, instead of ruthenium isotopes, it used osmium isotopes and other compositional data, but you see the point. So why was this earlier work ignored? I firmly believe that scientists prefer to ignore evidence that falsifies their cherished beliefs rather than change their minds. What I find worse is that neither of these papers cited the Drake and Righter paper. Either they did not want to admit they were confirming a previous conclusion, or they were not interested in looking thoroughly at past work other than that which supported their procedures.

So, I doubt these two papers will change much either. I might be wrong, but I am not holding my breath waiting for someone with enough prestige to come out and say enough to change the paradigm.

8 thoughts on “Evidence that the Standard Theory of Planetary Formation is Wrong.

  1. “What we actually know is that stars accrete from a disk of gas and dust, the disk lingers on for between a million years and 30 million years, depending on the star, then the dust clears out the dust and gas.”

    Your last phrase is quite strange. How can the dust clear out the dust (itself) and gas? What mechanism would you propose for the dust self-actuating and giving itself an impetus to motion away from a gravity source such as a star?

    We actually don’t know that stars accrete. We don’t know that anything accretes, neither stars nor planets. The theories have many holes in them, which you appear to be unaware of or unwilling to address.

    • The phrase is just plain wrong – it is the star that cleans out the dust with bursts of immense solar winds. Sorry about that.

      However, you are wrong that we do not know stars accrete; there are plenty of examples that astronomers can see. We have even seen a planet accreting LkCa 15b is an example. HR 8799 is an example where the planets have just finished accreting – we can tell this because they are yellow-white hot, due to gravitational energy being released.

      • No problem with the phrasing thing, I figured it was something like that even if it were wrong. Let’s consider. We have a massive gravity-source (the sun) pulling everything in, yet somehow the retained angular velocity keeps things from actually spinning towards it, and then somehow the solar winds are able to “blow away” this space-dust (which also still has enough angular momentum to avoid capture by said sun) but not an equivalent mass in planet-form after the allgeged acrretion?

        So you have a massive acceleration in being trumped by solar emission. Since gravity is overpowered by the outgoing solar wind, what keeps anything in orbit? The same gravity that allegedly caused the star to accrete isn’t enough to pull in other dust nearby, which is already orbiting the star? How did the star form at all, if gravity is so weak? How could an asteroid much less a planet form, if E/M emission trumps gravity so handily?

        As for evidence of accretion, we have almost no such data on these so-called exo-planets. We’ve never seen one. They’re calculated, inferred, by frequency gaps in their star’s light (with a huge margin for error here), and somehow we’re supposed to believe one just accreted. Then we have (allegedly) some white-hot planets, though we haven’t actually observed them, as proof of accretion. Venus would also be proof, or Io, but that’s circular. We have planets, yes, but that isn’t any proof of how they formed. Uranus’s atmosphere is 850K (577C), but that is also not proof of accretion.

        I’m not disagreeing with you to be contrarian, but rather seeking some clarification how accretion could be real. So far, the community is short on good answers. But I assure you my skepticism is scientific, not religious or anything.

      • Some of the questions you ask are too involved for a comment here. I shall write a separate post to try to answer them, but not tomorrow (because tomorrow’s post is already written). However, I dispute your claim that we have not actually observed the planets. The hot ones around HR 8799 have been observed through optical telescopes, and the planet LkCa 15b has also been observed using telescopes. There are not many that have been, because they have to glow, and be far enough away from the star to see them. The glow requirement means you have to see them in the first few million years of accretion, and they have to be large. The “far enough away” requirement tends to mean you have to see them around stars that are usually significantly larger than the sun, although LkCa 15 is an exception – it is about the same size as the sun, but for some reason the Jupiter equivalent, if that is what it is, is about three times further from the star.

    • “The hot ones around HR 8799 have been observed through optical telescopes, and the planet LkCa 15b has also been observed using telescopes.”

      Those must be some very nice optical telescopes to see 129 light years away, yet we find no photographs of these observances. We find only datasets from radio and infrared representing the area, which is not the same as an optical observation. We don’t even have optical observations of nearby stars or Pluto. If you recall, in 2015 the projected countenance of Pluto (a rough, craggy, pitted planet) by our best scientists was demolished when New Horizons visited it, showing it a smooth and pretty planetoid instead. Those were actual optical images. Telescopes from Earth cannot even see Pluto, so I believe you are incorrect about optical images of HR 8799 and its environs. Google image search it. You will find no photos, only dataset imagery and a few pretty bad “artist rendition” CGI renderings.

      LkCa15 is even further away. At 473 light years, again we have no optical images of this star, but inferred datasets. Of course those distances are highly in question, since NASA has been so wrong about them previously. But we cannot even see nearby objects such as Sirius or Centauri, much less stars and planets vastly further away.

      We have never seen any exoplanets with current optics. They are all inferred from datasets.

      • http://www.openexoplanetcatalogue.com/oec_iphone/data_images/HR%208799.weblarger.png – if all goes well, this is a link to an image from the Keck II telescope in Hawaii. You can decide whether you can see them.A quote from Wikipedia re LkCa 15b: “It was discovered by direct imaging techniques using the Keck II telescope in 2011 by Adam Kraus and Michael Ireland.” Because this is still forming, it is somewhat fuzzier, but selective observations using excited state carbon monoxide frequencies see a tail of gas accelerating and then stopping at where the planet is. Pluto was discovered by Tombaugh, using a telescope from Earth. From my point of view, I suppose I cannot guarantee these astronomers saw what they claimed, but when I see an article in the Astrophysical Journal, I tend to believe it.

      • Again, while this may or may not be evidence of exoplanets (I tend to believe it is), this is not an optical image but an extrapolated data image. When they use the word, “direct”, they’re not talking about taking a photo with a camera through a telescope. These are data images, as you can clearly see by the color-mapping and pixel resolution. Photographs look like photographs. Data looks like fuzzy pixelated spots that need to be false-colored (though the temperatures may or may not be proper here) to make sense of things.

        We don’t have any actual close-up photographs of any star but our sun, with any resolution that might trump margin of error. Not one star. And certainly not even a single exoplanet. Using these images as support for a theory is in this case as weak as the theory itself, and answers no questions about accretion. A hot planet is a hot planet – it could be hot for any number of reasons unrelated to accretion.

      • From my point of view, it is near enough to direct observation. Yes, there are a number of electronic manipulations, but the only input is what comes in the telescope. If you don’t like that, take it up with the editors of the Astrophysical Journal. I will try to answer your questions in a later post, but I think this strand of arguing whether planets were observed should stop.

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