Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Earliest Stage of Planet Formation

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Earliest Stage of Planet Formation

Article excerpt

University of California, Davis (UC Davis) researchers have dated the earliest step in the formation of the solar system--when microscopic interstellar dust coalesced into mountain-sized chunks of rock--to 4,568 million years ago, within a range of about 2,080,000 years.

UC Davis postdoctoral researcher Frederic Moynier, assistant professor of geology Qing-zhu Yin, and graduate student Benjamin Jacobsen established the dates by analyzing a particular type of meteorite, called a carbonaceous chondrite, which represents the oldest material left over from the formation of the solar system.

The physics and timing of this first stage of planet formation are not well understood, Yin says. So, putting time constraints on the process should help guide the physical models that could be used to explain it. In the second stage, mountain-sized masses grew quickly into about 20 Mars-sized planets, and in the third and final stage, these small planets smashed into each other in a series of giant collisions that left the planets we know today. The dates of those stages are well established.

Carbonaceous chondrites are made up of globules of silica and grains of metals embedded in a black, organic-rich matrix of interstellar dust. …

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