Nice model

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The Nice (/ˈns/) model is a scenario for the dynamical evolution of the Solar System. It is named for the location of the Observatoire de la Côte d'Azur, where it was initially developed, in Nice, France.[1][2][3] It proposes the migration of the giant planets from an initial compact configuration into their present positions, long after the dissipation of the initial protoplanetary gas disk. In this way, it differs from earlier models of the Solar System's formation. This planetary migration is used in dynamical simulations of the Solar System to explain historical events including the Late Heavy Bombardment of the inner Solar System, the formation of the Oort cloud, and the existence of populations of small Solar System bodies including the Kuiper belt, the Neptune and Jupiter trojans, and the numerous resonant trans-Neptunian objects dominated by Neptune. Its success at reproducing many of the observed features of the Solar System means that it is widely accepted as the current most realistic model of the Solar System's early evolution,[3] although it is not universally favoured among planetary scientists. One of its limitations that it does not reproduce the outer-system satellites and the Kuiper belt (see below).

Simulation showing the outer planets and planetesimal belt: a) early configuration, before Jupiter and Saturn reach a 2:1 resonance; b) scattering of planetesimals into the inner Solar System after the orbital shift of Neptune (dark blue) and Uranus (light blue); c) after ejection of planetesimals by planets.[4]


The original core of the Nice model is a triplet of papers published in the general science journal Nature in 2005 by an international collaboration of scientists: Rodney Gomes, Hal Levison, Alessandro Morbidelli and Kleomenis Tsiganis.[4][5][6] In these publications, the four authors proposed that after the dissipation of the gas and dust of the primordial Solar System disk, the four giant planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune) were originally found on near-circular orbits between ~5.5 and ~17 astronomical units (AU), much more closely spaced and compact than in the present. A large, dense disk of small, rock and ice planetesimals, their total about 35 Earth masses, extended from the orbit of the outermost giant planet to some 35 AU.

Scientists understand so little about the formation of Uranus and Neptune that Levison states, "...the possibilities concerning the formation of Uranus and Neptune are almost endless."[7] However, it is suggested that this planetary system evolved in the following manner. Planetesimals at the disk's inner edge occasionally pass through gravitational encounters with the outermost giant planet, which change the planetesimals' orbits. The planets scatter the majority of the small icy bodies that they encounter inward, exchanging angular momentum with the scattered objects so that the planets move outwards in response, preserving the angular momentum of the system. These planetesimals then similarly scatter off the next planet they encounter, successively moving the orbits of Uranus, Neptune, and Saturn outwards.[7] Despite the minute movement each exchange of momentum can produce, cumulatively these planetesimal encounters shift (migrate) the orbits of the planets by significant amounts. This process continues until the planetesimals interact with the innermost and most massive giant planet, Jupiter, whose immense gravity sends them into highly elliptical orbits or even ejects them outright from the Solar System. This, in contrast, causes Jupiter to move slightly inward.

The low rate of orbital encounters governs the rate at which planetesimals are lost from the disk, and the corresponding rate of migration. After several hundreds of millions of years of slow, gradual migration, Jupiter and Saturn, the two inmost giant planets, cross their mutual 1:2 mean-motion resonance. This resonance increases their orbital eccentricities, destabilizing the entire planetary system. The arrangement of the giant planets alters quickly and dramatically.[8] Jupiter shifts Saturn out towards its present position, and this relocation causes mutual gravitational encounters between Saturn and the two ice giants, which propel Neptune and Uranus onto much more eccentric orbits. These ice giants then plough into the planetesimal disk, scattering tens of thousands of planetesimals from their formerly stable orbits in the outer Solar System. This disruption almost entirely scatters the primordial disk, removing 99% of its mass, a scenario which explains the modern-day absence of a dense trans-Neptunian population.[5] Some of the planetesimals are thrown into the inner Solar System, producing a sudden influx of impacts on the terrestrial planets: the Late Heavy Bombardment.[4]

Eventually, the giant planets reach their current orbital semi-major axes, and dynamical friction with the remaining planetesimal disc damps their eccentricities and makes the orbits of Uranus and Neptune circular again.[9]

In some 50% of the initial models of Tsiganis and colleagues, Neptune and Uranus also exchange places.[5] An exchange of Uranus and Neptune would be consistent with models of their formation in a disk that had a surface density that declined with distance from the Sun, which predicts that the masses of the planets should also decline with distance from the Sun.[1]

Example Nice Model simulation of the migration of the solar distance of the four giant planets.

Solar System features[edit]

Running dynamical models of the Solar System with different initial conditions for the simulated length of the history of the Solar System will produce the various populations of objects within the Solar System. As the initial conditions of the model are allowed to vary, each population will be more or less numerous, and will have particular orbital properties. Proving a model of the evolution of the early Solar System is difficult, since the evolution cannot be directly observed.[8] However, the success of any dynamical model can be judged by comparing the population predictions from the simulations to astronomical observations of these populations.[8] At the present time, computer models of the Solar System that are begun with the initial conditions of the Nice scenario best match many aspects of the observed Solar System.[10]

The Late Heavy Bombardment[edit]

The crater record on the Moon and on the terrestrial planets is part of the main evidence for the Late Heavy Bombardment (LHB): an intensification in the number of impactors, at about 600 million years after the Solar System's formation. In the initial Nice model icy planetesimals are scattered onto planet-crossing orbits when the outer disc is disrupted by Uranus and Neptune causing a sharp spike of impacts by icy objects. The migration of outer planets also causes mean-motion and secular resonances to sweep through the inner Solar System. In the asteroid belt these excite the eccentricities of the asteroids driving them onto orbits that intersect those of the terrestrial planets causing a more extended period of impacts by stony objects and removing roughly 90% of its mass.[4]

In this initial model the number of planetesimals that would reach the Moon is consistent with the crater record from the LHB.[4] Impacts onto Jupiter's moons are sufficient to trigger Ganymede's differentiation but not Callisto's.[11] However, significant differences with observations have also been identified. The orbital distribution of the surviving asteroid belt has an excess of high inclination objects due to the secular resonances exciting inclinations and also removing low inclination objects.[12] During Jupiter and Saturn's slow approach to the 2:1 resonance leading up to the LHB Mars's eccentricity can reach a level that results in the destabilization of the inner Solar System. The eccentricities of the other terrestrial planets can also be excited beyond current levels by sweeping secular resonances.[13] In the outer Solar System the impacts of icy planetesimals onto Saturn's inner moons are sufficient to vaporize their ice.[14] These issue provided motivations for modifications to the initial Nice model.

Trojans and the asteroid belt[edit]

During the period of orbital disruption following Jupiter and Saturn reaching the 2:1 resonance, the combined gravitational influence of the migrating giant planets would have quickly destabilized any existing Trojan groups in the L4 and L5 Lagrange points of Jupiter and Neptune.[15] During this time, the Trojan co-orbital region is termed "dynamically open".[3] Under the Nice model, the planetesimals leaving the disrupted disk cross this region in large numbers, temporarily inhabiting it. After the period of orbital instability ends, the Trojan region is "dynamically closed", capturing planetesimals present at the time. The present Trojan populations are then these acquired scattered planetesimals of the primordial asteroid belt.[6] This simulated population matches the libration angle, eccentricity and the large inclinations of the orbits of the Jupiter Trojans.[6] Their inclinations had not previously been understood.[3] This mechanism of the Nice model similarly generates the Neptune trojans.[3]

A large number of planetesimals would have also been captured in Jupiter's mean motion resonances as Jupiter migrated inward. Those that remained in a 3:2 resonance with Jupiter form the Hilda family. The eccentricity of other objects declined while they were in a resonance and escaped onto stable orbits in the outer asteroid belt, at distances greater than 2.6 AU as the resonances moved inward.[16] These captured objects would then have undergone collisional erosion, grinding the population away into smaller fragments that can then be acted on by the Yarkovsky effect, causing small objects to drift into unstable resonances, and Poynting–Robertson drag causing smaller grains to drift toward the sun. These processes remove more than 90% of the origin mass implanted into the asteroid belt according to Bottke and colleagues.[17] The size frequency distribution of this simulated population following this erosion are in excellent agreement with observations.[17] This suggests that the Jupiter Trojans, Hildas and some of the outer asteroid belt, all spectral D-type asteroids, are the remnant planetesimals from this capture and erosion process.[17] It has also been suggested that the dwarf planet Ceres was captured via this process.[18]

Outer-system satellites[edit]

Any original populations of irregular satellites captured by traditional mechanisms, such as drag or impacts from the accretion disks,[19] would be lost during the encounters between the planets at the time of global system instability.[5] In the Nice model, the outer planets encounter large numbers of planetesimals after Uranus and Neptune enter and disrupt the planetesimal disk. A fraction of these planetesimals are captured by these planets via three-way interactions during encounters between planets. The probability for any planetesimal to be captured by an ice giant is relatively high, a few 10−7.[20] These new satellites could be captured at almost any angle, so unlike the regular satellites of Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, they do not necessarily orbit in the planets' equatorial planes. Some irregulars may have even been exchanged between planets. The resulting irregular orbits match well with the observed populations' semimajor axes, inclinations and eccentricities.[20] Subsequent collisions between these captured satellites may have created the suspected collisional families seen today.[21] These collisions are also required to erode the population to the present size distribution.[22]

Triton, the largest moon of Neptune, can be explained if it was captured in a three-body interaction involving the disruption of a binary planetoid.[23] Such binary disruption would be more likely if Triton was the smaller member of the binary.[24] However, Triton's capture would be more likely in the early Solar System when the gas disk would damp relative velocities, and binary exchange reactions would not in general have supplied the large number of small irregulars.[24]

There were not enough interactions between Jupiter and the other planets to explain Jupiter's retinue of irregulars in the initial Nice model simulations that reproduced other aspects of the outer Solar System. This suggests either that a second mechanism was at work for that planet, or that the early simulations did not reproduce the evolution of the giant planets orbits.[20]

Formation of the Kuiper belt[edit]

The migration of the outer planets is also necessary to account for the existence and properties of the Solar System's outermost regions.[9] Originally, the Kuiper belt was much denser and closer to the Sun, with an outer edge at approximately 30 AU. Its inner edge would have been just beyond the orbits of Uranus and Neptune, which were in turn far closer to the Sun when they formed (most likely in the range of 15–20 AU), and in opposite locations, with Uranus farther from the Sun than Neptune.[4][9]

Gravitational encounters between the planets scatter Neptune outward into the planetesimal disk with a semi-major axis of ~28 AU and an eccentricity as high as 0.4. Neptune's high eccentricity causes its mean-motion resonances to overlap and orbits in the region between Neptune and its 2:1 mean motion resonances to become chaotic. The orbits of objects between Neptune and the edge of the planetesimal disk at this time can evolve outward onto stable low-eccentricity orbits within this region. When Neptune's eccentricity is damped by dynamical friction they become trapped on these orbits. These objects form a dynamically-cold belt, since their inclinations remain small during the short time they interact with Neptune. Later, as Neptune migrates outward on a low eccentricity orbit, objects that have been scattered outward are captured into its resonances and can have their eccentricities decline and their inclinations increase due to the Kozai mechanism, allowing them to escape onto stable higher-inclination orbits. Other objects remain captured in resonance, forming the plutinos and other resonant populations. These two population are dynamically hot, with higher inclinations and eccentricities; due to their being scattered outward and the longer period these objects interact with Neptune.[9]

This evolution of Neptune's orbit produces both resonant and non-resonant populations, an outer edge at Neptune's 2:1 resonance, and a small mass relative to the original planetesimal disk. The excess of low-inclination plutinos in other models is avoided due to Neptune being scattered outward, leaving its 3:2 resonance beyond the original edge of the planetesimal disk. The differing initial locations, with the cold classical objects originating primarily from the outer disk, and capture processes, offer explanations for the bi-modal inclination distribution and its correlation with compositions.[9] However, this evolution of Neptune's orbit fails to account for some of the characteristics of the orbital distribution. It predicts a greater average eccentricity in classical Kuiper belt object orbits than is observed (0.10–0.13 versus 0.07) and it does not produce enough higher-inclination objects. It also cannot explain the apparent complete absence of gray objects in the cold population, although it has been suggested that color differences arise in part from surface evolution processes rather than entirely from differences in primordial composition.[25]

The shortage of the lowest-eccentricity objects predicted in the Nice model may indicate that the cold population formed in situ. The hot and cold populations not only possess different orbits, but different colors; the cold population is markedly redder than the hot, suggesting it has a different composition and formed in a different region.[25][26] The cold population also includes a large number of binary objects with loosely bound orbits that would be unlikely to survive close encounter with Neptune.[27] If the cold population formed at its current location, preserving it would require that Neptune's eccentricity remained small,[28] or that its perihelion precessed rapidly due to a strong interaction between it and Uranus.[29]

Scattered disc and Oort cloud[edit]

Objects scattered outward by Neptune onto orbits with semi-major axis greater than 50 AU can be captured in resonances forming the resonant population of the scattered disc, or if their eccentricities are reduced while in resonance they can escape from the resonance onto stable orbits in the scattered disc while Neptune is migrating. When Neptune's eccentricity is large its aphelion can reach well beyond its current orbit. Objects that attain perihelia close to or larger than Neptune's at this time can become detached from Neptune when its eccentricity is damped reducing its aphelion, leaving them on stable orbits in the scattered disc.[9]

Objects scattered outward by Uranus and Neptune onto larger orbits (roughly 5,000 AU) can have their perihelion raised by the galactic tide detaching them from the influence of the planets forming the inner Oort cloud with moderate inclinations. Others that reach even larger orbits can be perturbed by nearby stars forming the outer Oort cloud with isotropic inclinations. Objects scattered by Jupiter and Saturn are typically ejected from the Solar System[30] Several percent of the initial planetesimal disc can be deposited in these reservoirs.[31]


Main article: Nice 2 model

The Nice model has undergone significant modification since its initial publication. The initial conditions of the model have been changed as a result of investigations of the behavior of planets orbiting in a gas disk to a quadruple resonant configuration with Jupiter and Saturn in their 3:2 resonance.[32] The gravitational stirring of the outer planetesimal disk by Pluto-sized objects has been shown to result in breaking of the quadruple resonance via a mechanism that is not sensitive to the distance between the outer planet and the planetesimal disk.[33] This mechanism for triggering the late instability of resonant planets similar to that in the original Nice model has been referred to as the Nice 2 model.[33]

The smooth divergent migration of Jupiter and Saturn following the instability that resulted in the excitation of the eccentricities of the terrestrial planets beyond their current values[13] and an asteroid belt with an excessive ratio of high- to low-inclination objects[12] has been replaced by a step-wise separation of their orbits called the jumping-Jupiter scenario. This is driven by an ice giant encountering Saturn, causing its orbit to expand, then encountering Jupiter, causing its orbit to shrink.[13] The encounters between the ice giant and Jupiter in this model also allow Jupiter to acquire its own irregular satellites.[34]

Five-planet Nice model[edit]

The frequent ejection of the ice giant encountering Jupiter has led David Nesvorný to hypothesize an early Solar System with five giant planets, one of which was ejected during the instability.[35][36] In recent work this version of the Nice model begins with a 20 Earth-mass planetesimals disk orbiting beyond the five giant planets that are in a resonant chain. Following the breaking of the resonant chain Neptune first migrates outward into the planetesimal disk reaching 28 AU before encounters between planets begin.[37] This initial migration reduces the mass of the outer disk enabling Jupiter's eccentricity to be preserved[38] and produces a Kuiper belt with an inclination distribution that matches observations.[39] The lower mass planetesimal belt in combination with the excitation of inclinations and eccentricities by the Pluto-massed objects also significantly reduce the loss of ice by Saturn's inner moons.[40] A study published in 2015 based on a large ensemble of n-body simulations suggests that the ejection of a hypothetical fifth giant planet is statistically unlikely to produce the observed orbits of the terrestrial planets.[41] The study concluded that, if there was a giant-planet instability leading to the ejection of one or more additional ice giants, it had to occur prior to the formation of the terrestrial planets and that such an instability could not be the source of the Late Heavy Bombardment.


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