Birth of a planet

Researchers use 3D models to better our understanding of how planets are formed. 

In 1988 we knew of one solitary extrasolar planet. In 2012 we know of almost 2,400 — and more await confirmation. Understanding the conditions that are most favourable for planet formation will aid researchers in discovering more celestial objects and will provide greater understanding of the evolution of Earth, and our own solar system.

Planetary researcher Sally Dodson-Robinson of the University of Texas at Austin has utilised advanced simulations  
to further research in this field by working with the Texas Advanced Computing Center.

It is believed that most planets form when a molecular cloud collapses into a young star. The left over gas and dust form a disc around the star, and the particles inside the disc begin to collide and affix over millions of years, forming larger and larger objects until a planet takes shape.

“With these 3D renderings we’re able to see that these are the correct proportions… We’re moving towards a better understanding of what this disc would actually look like if we were to fly over it,” Dodson-Robinson said on a press release. “It’s a way of looking at the problem in a way that I had never thought about, which is how can you use your eyes to get information? And what can you cut out? And if you cut it out are you telling the right story? It’s kind of fun.”

According to the researchers, any young star that’s a few million years old or less is surrounded by one of these discs, so getting accurate and detailed models of how these discs work is extremely important for our understanding of planet formation.

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