Swirling Secrets
by Scott Gibson for NICS News
Knoxville TN (SPX) Apr 03, 2013

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Many newly formed stars are surrounded by what are called protoplanetary disks, swirling masses of warm dust and gas that can constitute the core of a developing solar system. Proof of the existence of such disks didn’t come until 1994, when the Hubble telescope examined young stars in the Orion Nebula.

Protoplanetary disks may potentially become celestial bodies such as planets and asteroids. But just how they make that transformation will remain a mystery to science until researchers can get a grasp on the disordered movement, or turbulence, that characterizes the constituent gases of the disks. Turbulence is what some people regard as “the last great classical physics problem.”

“By understanding the nature of the gases, we can learn something about how small particles interact with each other, coagulate to become larger particles and then ultimately form planets,” says Jake Simon of the University of Colorado, principal investigator of a research project currently taking on two primary challenges in the quest to understand protoplanetary disk turbulence.

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