4.6 billion years ago, the Solar System was formed from a disk of gas and dust. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
In theoretical research that could explain everything from planet formation to outflows from stars, to even the settling of volcanic ash, California Institute of Technology (Caltech) researchers in California, United States, have discovered a new mechanism to explain how the act of dust moving through gas leads to clumps of dust. While dust clumps were already known to play a role in seeding new planets and many other systems in space and on Earth, how the clumps formed was unknown until now.
Phil Hopkins, professor of theoretical astrophysics at Caltech, working with Jonathan (Jono) Squire, a former postdoctoral fellow at Caltech, began thinking about disturbances to dust moving through gas while studying how strong radiation from stars and galaxies drives dust-laden winds. Hopkins says that it was previously assumed that dust was stable in gas, meaning the dust grains would ride along with gas without much happening, or they would settle out of the gas if the particles were big enough, as is the case with soot from a fire.
“What Jono and I discovered is that dust and gas ...