Pretty big

Planet formation

Professor Gerhard Wurm’s group focuses on planets and their formation. In a collaborative project, Professor Wurm’s and Professor Dietrich Wolf’s research groups at the UDE’s Faculty of Physics and Professor Troy Shinbrot  of Rutgers University were able to close a gap in our understanding of the formation of planetesimals. Their work has shown that particles in protoplanetary disks become electrically charged through impacts. As a result, millimetre-sized particles eventually become more stable, decimetre-sized aggregates. The process also connects various growth phases. Students of the Faculty entered and won an international competition with an idea based on these insights: they successfully investigated the discharge of particles through cosmic radiation on a high-altitude balloon.

The stability of planetesimals was also the focus of several parabolic flight campaigns. Using a low-pressure wind tunnel, researchers were able to quantify erosion boundaries at extremely low environmental pressure levels (few Pa) similar to those present in protoplanetary disks. The planet Mars was one of the group’s research subjects, too. In the lab, they evaluated various known and novel processes that could potentially explain how ground particles can reach the thin atmosphere of Mars, which can be engulfed in a global cloud of dust over periods of months.