The Grand Tack Hypothesis states that Jupiter formed at roughly 3.5 AU from the Sun, then interacted with a large portion of objects in the Solar System before settling into its current orbit.

Yet as I found from researching for an answer to this question, giant planets generally form beyond the frost line - in fact, this explains why the giant planets are cut off from the terrestrial planets.

How does the Grand Tack Hypothesis get around this?

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    $\begingroup$ Nice question. I'm aware of the hypothesis, but not knowledgeable enough of it to be sure. Presumably Jupiter picks up extra growth here because it cheated and stole from multiple orbital regions: where it started, Mars' area, and the asteroids' area. 3 for the price of one in a few million years! Then it migrated out to suck up it's current area. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 0:36
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    $\begingroup$ I've added, and just now expanded, an answer. Let me/us know if there's more that you think needs to be explained. It's a rather interesting model to learn about. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 7:50
  • $\begingroup$ A 2019 paper: "Jupiterʼs Composition Suggests its Core Assembled Exterior to the N_2 Snowline" argues that Jupiter's core would have to have formed beyond the N_2 and Ar frost lines, more than 30AU from the Sun (maybe > 40). The authors believe that Jupiter would have migrated inwards, and accreted most of its envelope at 5AU. I do not know whether this model would still allow for further inward migration followed by a "tack" outwards, so it may not be compatible with even a heavily-modified Grand Tack Hypothesis. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 2, 2021 at 21:01
  • $\begingroup$ The above comment was motivated by my researching a comment on one of my questions (astronomy.stackexchange.com/questions/35579/… ) I found the above paper while researching and the reference to other frost lines made me think of this question. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 2, 2021 at 21:04

1 Answer 1


A direct cribbing of the wiki's page for the frost line:

In astronomy or planetary science, the frost line, also known as the snow line or ice line, is the particular distance in the solar nebula from the central protostar where it is cold enough for volatile compounds such as water, ammonia, methane, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide to condense into solid ice grains. This condensation temperature depends on the volatile substance and the partial pressure of vapor in the protostar nebula. The actual temperature and distance for the snow line of water ice depend on the physical model used to calculate it:

  • 170 K at 2.7 AU (Hayashi, 1981)
  • 143 K at 3.2 AU to 150 K at 3 AU (Podolak and Zucker, 2010)
  • 3.1 AU (Martin and Livio, 2012)

Occasionally, the term snow line is also used to represent the present distance at which water ice can be stable (even under direct sunlight). This current snow line distance is different from the formation snow line distance during the formation of Solar System, and approximately equals 5 AU. The reason for the difference is that during the formation of Solar System, the solar nebula was an opaque cloud where temperature were lower close to the Sun,[citation needed] and the Sun itself was less energetic. After formation, the ice got buried by infalling dust and it has remained stable a few meters below the surface. If ice within 5 AU is exposed, e.g. by a crater, then it sublimates on short timescales. However, out of direct sunlight ice can remain stable on the surface of asteroids (and the Moon) if it is located in permanently shadowed craters, where temperature may remain very low over the age of the Solar System (e.g. 30–40 K on the Moon).

Observations of the asteroid belt, located between Mars and Jupiter, suggest that the water snow line during formation of Solar System was located within this region. The outer asteroids are icy C-class objects (e.g. Abe et al. 2000; Morbidelli et al. 2000) whereas the inner asteroid belt is largely devoid of water. This implies that when planetesimal formation occurred the snow line was located at around $R_{snow} = 2.7$ AU from the Sun.

So in all of the three listed models, as well as the snow line inferred from asteroid properties, it seems that the 3.5 AU starting distance for Jupiter in the Grand Tack hypothesis remains comfortably behind the snow line (for water, at least, which is still an advantage over the inner planets).

Since it ultimately fell well within the snow line for a time, one would expect any exposed ices to rapidly sublimate. I would guess that it made up for this by accreting the rockier planetesimals found in the inner parts of the Solar System, which could then shield the remaining ices.

This site offers a pretty good detailing of the basic structure of the Grand Tack Hypothesis. The most digestible piece of information is at the very bottom, in the form of an AVI file that models the first few million years of the solar system. The short answer to your question is "Jupiter is assumed to have already formed some fundamental core at the start of the hypothesis, then moves around accreting and scattering things through the inner solar system, until returning to the outer solar system to finish growing". The initial inward migration is caused by interactions with the relatively thick gaseous disc (the majority of it will never become part of any planet), which creates drag on the planets/planetesimals and causes them to lose velocity and fall inward.

But the video's pretty cool, so I'm going to link it and talk about it just for its own sake.

Get the video, as produced by the paper Walsh et. al., 2011

You may find it best to run this at half speed or slower to really see what's going on.

Here's how it starts out. starting configuration

The solid black orbits are the gas giant orbits, with Jupiter being the innermost one, and Saturn the one after that. The dashed circle represents a 2 AU distance from the sun (modern day Mars is currently at about 1.5 AU, and the modern asteroid belt stretches roughly 2.2-3 AU). This is noteworthy since the model is trying to explain why Mars is so small, and why there is so little material (relatively speaking) in the asteroid belt. The numerous small blue dots are the icy comets/planetesimals that form right around the point Jupiter starts out, and points beyond. The numerous red dots are the rocky asteroids/planetesimals characteristic of the inner solar system.

For the first several seconds we see Jupiter creep in towards the inner solar system. You'll notice a lot of rocky planetesimals get scattered out into the outer solar system, while some of the icy ones are scattered to the inner solar system. Indeed, it seems to be a general feature of this model that the total amount of material within approximately 1 AU undergoes a net increase.

Saturn is also slowly moving in, but not nearly as quicky as Jupiter is (Neptune/Uranus seem pretty stable, but do "pulse" in and out a bit).

jupiter hits the 2 AU mark

In this image we see that Jupiter hits the 2 AU mark at ~3 seconds in, corresponding to a model time of about 68,000 years. At this point you can see a dashed circle at about the 3.5 AU distance, corresponding to Jupiter's starting distance. Saturn is about 4 AU out now, having started at over 5.

The third through fourth second are fairly stable-looking, with Jupiter moving in to about 1.5 AU but the other outer planets staying mostly put.

But in the 5th second (~94,000 years model time)...

Saturn makes its move Saturn still moving fast

We see Saturn make a very rapid move inwards. This is the main reason I suggest playing it slowly, as you can very easily miss it and lose track of where each solid black orbit has come from. By model time 98,000 years (still in the 5th second of the video time), Saturn has already come to within about 2 AU of the Sun; Jupiter is still about 1.5 AU, and there is a thick concentration of mostly rocky planetesimals within 1 AU. Saturn and Jupiter rebound back out

By model time of about 120,000 years, Saturn and Jupiter are rebounding back out into the outer solar system, to much the same distances we see today, scattering most of the planetesimals that remained in the areas that would become Mars and the asteroid belt. This leaves a fairly dense disc of material for Earth, Venus, and Mercury to form and grow from, while leaving significantly less for Mars, and lesser still for the asteroid belt.

The whole 10 second movie covers a model time of 600,000 years. The End

Walsh, K. J., Morbidelli, A., Raymond, S. N., O’Brien, D. P., Mandell, A. M. (2011). A low mass for Mars from Jupiter’s early gas-driven migration. Nature 475, 206-209.

Walsh, K. J., Morbidelli, A., Raymond, S. N., O’Brien, D. P., Mandell, A. M. (2012). Populating the asteroid belt from two parent source regions due to the migration of giant planets – ”The Grand Tack”. Meteoritics & Planetary Science 47(12), 1941-1947.

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    $\begingroup$ Also, the frost line would have been far closer to the Sun when Jupiter formed than its current location, as the Sun was much cooler and fainter back then. $\endgroup$
    – Vikki
    Commented May 12, 2020 at 20:43
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    $\begingroup$ A paper you can cite directly in addition to the Wiki article: "MASSIVE PLANET MIGRATION: THEORETICAL PREDICTIONS AND COMPARISON WITH OBSERVATIONS" (Armitage, 2007, Astrophysical Journal) "Protoplanetary disk models clearly show that the radius of the snow line changes dramatically with time as the disk evolves ... so to quote a single radius is potentially misleading. However, for a solar-type star, the apparent presence of hydrated minerals in solar system asteroids allows an empirical determination of the location of the snow line at a radius of around 2.7 AU (Morbidelli et al. 2000)." $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 2, 2021 at 20:44

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