Cosmic Glass May Reveal How Our Planet Earth Evolved

First Posted: Jan 05, 2016 09:50 AM EST

How are asteroids and planets formed from stony particles? Scientists are now taking a closer look at this question in a new experiment that uses beads made from a special type of glass.

Earth is about 4.57 billion years old. But to understand how our planet was first formed, scientists are analyzing other rock bodies from our solar system, such as fragments of asteroids that have arrived on Earth as meteorites after collisions in space.

According to current knowledge, many planetary bodies were formed through the merger of chondrules, which are silicate beads that are about .1 to 3 mm wide. But how does this cosmic rock formation process work?

In this latest study, the researchers developed a special glass and formed tiny beads with it to represent the chondrules as realistically as possible.

For the experiment itself, the scientists created several versions of their beads, each of which differed slightly in material composition. These beads were first heated in special melting units in which the temperature and atmosphere can be adjusted precisely. The beads which had characteristics closest to the theoretical model after this test melting were selected for the project.

The scientists then conducted experiments in the drop tower, which is a 120-meter-high steel drop tube in which a high vacuum is kept. Through a catapult system, the glass beads were shot in a capsule to the tip of the drop tube. As a result, approximately 9.5 seconds of weightlessness were achieved, the same conditions of space. And during this time, the glass beads were heated up to 1100 degrees Celsius.

The researchers found that as the beads were dropped, they collided and formed larger clusters. The scientists recorded this collision behavior to see how the beads merged, and how this compared to the formation of meteorites.

The new findings may show the first stages of how our planet Earth formed. This, in turn, may reveal a bit more about the formation of other planets.

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