The majority of planets form when a molecular cloud collapses into a young star. Indeed, the leftover gas and dust form a disk around the star, with the particulates inside the disk colliding and coalescing.
This process takes place over millions of years – forming larger and larger objects until a planet eventually takes shape.
Recently, Sally Dodson Robinson of the University of Texas at Austin ran a simulation that modeled the formation of the above-mentioned protostellar disks.
“The simulations model important factors such as the turbulence and temperature of the disk, which affect how and where planets form,” she explained.
“ In a disk that is too turbulent, the particles move too fast and bounce off each other. Less turbulence means a greater chance for them to collide and stick together.”
According to Robinson, discoveries like this are a result of the complexity of the models and simulations – which effectively cover a timescale of millions of years.
It should be noted that the considerable computation involved in the simulation was facilitated by the Ranger supercomputer at the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC).