Thursday, November 13, 2008

Shock-ing Recipe for New Planets

Shock waves, the explosive booms associated with jets that send us quailing with our hands clamped over our ears, may be a key ingredient in the formation of new planets.

Just because aircraft can move faster than the speed of sound, doesn't mean sound waves can. Since the aircraft can't just toss aside fettered sound waves, they end up "piling up" against each other as the aircraft plows through the air. The result is an immense wave pressure or shock wave.

Some scientists theorize that shock waves emerge when high-speed swirling disks of gas collide into each other, and eventually lump together during the first few million year's of a planet's formation.

Surprising evidence for the theory has recently surfaced in tiny quartz-like crystals called cristobalite and tridymite found near five baby stars just beginning to form planets, and detected by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. Known to reside in meteorites and comets that land on Earth (and even in volcanic lava), these two types of silica crystals can only form after violent, intense bursts of energy like shock waves.

Authors of the study say that the discovery has given scientists a better cookbook containing the raw ingredients needed not only to create other star systems at the earliest stages of inception, but maybe even our own planets.

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