Visualization of a simulation of the interaction between a massive gas giant planet (comparable in mass to Jupiter) and a surrounding protoplanetary disk of gas and dust. These disks are observed to be present for the first few million years after stars such as the sun form. The gravitational interaction between the planet and the gas disk has two consequences. First, it results in the opening of an annular gap in the gas disk near the location of the planet, which starves the planet of further gas needed to grow. And second, it launches spiral waves within the disk that allow the planet to exchange energy with its surroundings. This can cause the planet's orbit to change. It may migrate closer toward the star, and--if the planet is massive enough--develop an eccentric orbit.
The image is from simulations created as part of a National Science Foundation-supported project (under grant AST 08-07471) to study the formation of planetary systems and their interaction with protoplantary disks.
Credit: Phil Armitage, University of Colorado