How did this rocky outpost of life we call ‘Earth’ form, what process is capable of turning space dust and rubble into this picturesque blue planet we call home. Science has a fairly good understanding of the beginning and end of the life-cycle of solar systems and their planets but the middle bit is still a huge mystery. How we go from a dusty cloud to what we on Earth a used to seeing, a working solar system that’s the question. A number of recent discoveries are helping us shape our understanding of this process, the formation of planets. Central to this new understanding is the information being collected by many radio telescopes and satellites. With these new modern tools we are seeing for the first time this process in action. Discoveries are also being made in unexpected places, theories are being expanded or replaced faster than ever.
One of the greatest mysteries and hardest to observe processes is the earliest stage of planet formation, how that initial clumping of dust occurs, starting the snow ball rolling. Discoveries often happen in funny and unexpected ways. This discovered was made by a mad scientists experimenting on the International Space Station – ISS -. Dr Don Pettit - NASA Astronaut - had become famous for his hands on experiments in zero gravity. Pettit filmed everyday things in zero gravity, with a desire to simply learn about this new set of rules, the laws of zero-gravity. Many of the experiments exhibited unexpected behaviour, pleasant surprises that are helping us define our understanding of space. This discovery almost went unnoticed until fellow NASA scientist Dr Stanley Love was watching some of Pettit’s video’s of plastic bags filled with salt. The salt inside the bag clumped almost instantly once Pettit stopped shaking it. The shaking caused the dust to bump into each other, building up a static charge which caused them to be attracted – electrostatic coalescence – once clumped together surface tension took over to hold it all together. Again Pettite has some interesting video to demonstrate this point, an interesting experiment with corn candy. Very cool video by the way. When particles bump around in space the impacts cause an exchange of electrons this along with a complete lack of ground to discharge static it just builds up, this coupled with the fact that static works very differently in space than it does on Earth may be the basis for a solution to this mysterious part of the plant formation process. Read the full article »»»»