Birth of a planet

University of Texas at Austin scientists are creating 3D models and visualizations of the birth of planets
September 3, 2012

Artist’s concept of formation of a planet, based on University of Texas at Austin models (credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Collaborating with Greg Abrams of Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC), Sally Dodson-Robinson and her team of researches at the University of Texas at Austin have developed advanced simulations to visualize how planets are formed over a timescale of millions of years.

They are modeling and simulating prototypical disks, and comparing the results to the Earth and the planets of our own solar system. The considerable computation involved was facilitated by the Ranger supercomputer at TACC.

Over the past few decades, the hunt for extrasolar planets — planets outside our own solar system — has yielded incredible discoveries. And now planetary researchers have a new tool: simulated models of how planets are born.

The leftover gas and dust form a disk around the star, and the particulates inside the disk begin to collide and coalesce over millions of years, forming larger and larger objects, until a planet eventually takes shape.

3D rendering of disk in the process of forming a planet (credit: Texas Advanced Computing Center)