NEWSWEEK - While Jupiter may be our planetary guardian angel, protecting us from harm, gas giants in other solar systems might actually wreak havoc on other exoplanets nearby.
In our solar system, Jupiter's huge gravitational field deflects comets and asteroids away from our delicate, rocky home planet.
According to a new study in The Astronomical Journal, small rocky exoplanets similar to Earth may actually be knocked out of the habitable zone by the gravitational impact of large Jupiter-like gas giants.
"It's as if they have four Jupiters acting like wrecking balls, throwing everything out of whack," Stephen Kane, a UC Riverside astrophysicist and co-author of the paper, said in a statement.
The scientists looked into the far-off solar system HD 141399, which has four gas giants situated a long distance from their star, making it a good model for our own solar system, as Jupiter and Saturn are also long way from the sun.
Using computer simulations of the solar system, they found that Earth may not have been able to remain in its habitable orbit had it been in that solar system rather than our own, due to the gravitational effects of the gas giants.