Planetesimal

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Planetesimal

Post  tungduong_9102 on 16th December 2010, 13:23

Planetesimals are solid objects thought to exist in protoplanetary disks and in debris disks.

A widely accepted theory of planet formation, the so-called planetesimal hypothesis of Viktor Safronov, states that planets form out of dust grains that collide and stick to form larger and larger bodies. When the bodies reach sizes of approximately one kilometer, then they can attract each other directly through their mutual gravity, enormously aiding further growth into moon-sized protoplanets. This is how planetesimals are often defined. Bodies that are smaller than planetesimals must rely on Brownian motion or turbulent motions in the gas to cause the collisions that can lead to sticking. Alternatively, planetesimals can form in a very dense layer of dust grains that undergoes a collective gravitational instability in the mid-plane of a protoplanetary disk. Many planetesimals eventually break apart during violent collisions, as may have happened to 4 Vesta[1] and 90 Antiope,[2] but a few of the largest planetesimals can survive such encounters and continue to grow into protoplanets and later planets.

It is generally believed that about 3.8 billion years ago, after a period known as the Late Heavy Bombardment, most of the planetesimals within the solar system had either been ejected from the Solar system entirely, into distant eccentric orbits such as the Oort cloud, or had collided with larger objects due to the regular gravitational nudges from the Jovian planets (particularly Jupiter and Neptune). A few planetesimals may have been captured as moons, such as Phobos and Deimos (the moons of Mars), and many of the small high-inclination moons of the Jovian planets.

Planetesimals that have survived to the current day are valuable to scientists because they contain information about the birth of our solar system. Although their exteriors are subjected to intense solar radiation that can alter their chemistry, their interiors contain pristine material essentially untouched since the planetesimal was formed. This makes each planetesimal a 'time capsule', and their composition can tell us of the conditions in the Solar Nebula from which our planetary system was formed. See meteorites and comets.

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