Thursday, October 29, 2009

NASA Studying Recipe for a Planet

"Simulations Show How Earth-Like Planets Can Form" (October 29, 2009)

"NASA has long followed the water and chemical building blocks of life in the course of space exploration. But most computer simulations that help scientists understand how planetary systems form usually overlooked the chemistry of planets, at least until now.

"A new study has looked for the first time at the dynamics and chemistry of how Earth-like planets form. The approach shows how rocky planets form from the manic swirl of gas and dust in the early planetary systems, and also what chemical building blocks existed in the planets that emerged from the chaos.

'If we're looking for Earth-like planets, it'd be nice to know the chemistry we're after,' said Jade Bond, a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona in Tucson and a lead author on the study.

"Such a first step has only assessed the chemistry of Earth's solar system, and still needs testing across more dynamical models...."

Well, it's a start. A few philosophy 101 students notwithstanding, we know that Earth exists and that there's life here. It makes sense to start making a model, by starting with the one place we know supports life.

"...Scientists have found that certain temperature profiles reliably match certain chemical profiles, after studying material from meteorites that fell to Earth. Some meteorites still hold the chemical profiles of the early solar system, and can serve as useful real life comparisons for simulations.

"Model results showed that Earth and other rocky planets in the solar system formed 'wet,' with perhaps enough water to sustain life. But important elements such as nitrogen and carbon did not accumulate during simulated planet formation, which suggests that they needed to arrive by other means to kick start the development of life on Earth...."

Which means there's still quite a bit to learn. Which, in turn, means that this should be an exciting field, at least until what's unknown now becomes known. By which time we'll have discovered more facets of reality that we didn't know existed - and know very little about.


The article does a pretty good job of explaining what the researchers are trying to do - and how it ties in with the fast-growing list of exoplanets that have been spotted.

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