Fleeting phase of planet formation discovered

May 25, 2017

By Ramin Skibba

Rocky planets, including Earth, endure violent beginnings. Giant impacts vaporize enormous chunks of protoplanets, surrounding them in a flattened halo of debris. Scientists believe that these disks eventually condense to form planets. Now, improved computer simulations of planet formation suggest that many of these embryonic objects pass through a phase late in their adolescence in which they assume the shape of enormous red blood cells called synestia.

Researchers led by planetary scientist Sarah Stewart at the University of California, Davis, published their description of these huge, spinning clouds of vaporized rock on 22 May in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets1. The finding could help scientists to improve their understanding of planet formation, and lead to better explanations of how Earth’s Moon formed.

“We discovered that there’s a different class of objects where the system is rotating so quickly, and it’s so hot, that there’s no actual boundary between what we used to call the planet and the disk,” Stewart says.

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One comment on “Fleeting phase of planet formation discovered”

  • @OP link – A synestia probably wouldn’t form for every planet, says Donald Korycansky, a planetary scientist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who wasn’t involved in the study. But he wouldn’t be surprised if they turned out to be fairly common.

    I think that the distance of the protoplanet from the system’s star, and the strength of the star’s gravity at that orbit, would also have a considerable effect.

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