Pacific Northwest National Lab experiments point to clingy grains of ice to solve age-old mystery of how primordial dust pulled together to form planets
How dust specks in the early solar systems came together to become planets has vexed astronomers for years. Gravity, always an attractive candidate to explain how celestial matter pulls together, was no match for stellar winds. The dust needed help coming together fast, in kilometer-wide protoplanets, in the first few million years after a star was born, or the stellar wind would blow it all away.
Scientists at the Department of Energys Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, reporting in the current issue of Astrophysical Journal, offer a cool answer to the planet- formation riddle: Micron-wide dust particles encrusted with molecularly gluey ice enabled planets to bulk up like dirty snowballs quickly enough to overcome the scattering force of solar winds. "People who had calculated the stickiness of dust grains found that the grains didnt stick," said James Cowin, PNNL lab fellow who led the research. "They bounce, like two billiard balls smacked together. The attraction just wasnt strong enough."
Bill Cannon | EurekAlert!
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