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[VIDEO] Physics and Space: Particles Gather and Cluster as in Outer Atmosphere

Aug 04, 2015 02:19 PM EDT

In an experiment that mimics the planetary formation process in its early stages, physicists recently watched for the first time how highly charged dust-sized particles gather others to build clusters particle by particle.

That is, in research that the scientists published recently in the journal Nature Physics, Heinrich Jaeger and others at the University of Chicago used a freefalling stream of particles to start a low-gravity environment, then tracked the streaming movement with a high-speed video camera that fell along with it. They were able to see how charged grains in mutual electrostatic interactions can attract as well as repel, in ways similar to planetary orbits, according to a release

"This can have implications for the very earliest stages of planet formation, which is believed to start via collisions among interstellar dust grains," Jaeger said, as a release noted. "Single head-on collisions typically do not dissipate enough energy to lead to sticking."

While there has been ongoing speculation in science that electrostatic interactions could aid in sticking together colliding particles, this work shows that scenario in great detail and in long range. This work can relate to the coagulation of airborne pollutants, or the clustering of dust in interstellar space, the release said.

Based on this study and another recently completed study at University of Chicago regarding granular molecule configurations, Jaeger says in the release: "...The effects we were able to track directly with the granular material have wide-ranging importance for much smaller particles, including colloids, nanoparticles, and molecules."

To see a YouTube video of the University of Chicago physicists' experiment, click here

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