Several small-scale experiments aboard NASA’s vomit comet have to a NASA grant to study early planet formation aboard a satellite in low-Earth orbit for a year or more.
University of Central Florida physics professor Joshua Colwell this month landed a grant to place a thermos-sized experiment aboard a satellite as part of NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative . UCF landed two of the 14 grants awarded.
Colwell, whose area of expertise covers early planet formation, has been exploring how dust collides and forms into bigger chunks in the so-called protoplanetary disks where planets form around newborn stars. He’s led teams of students aboard several zero-gravity flights (better known as vomit comets) and experiments that have flown on the International Space Station to study the phenomena that can only be observed in zero gravity. He’s also been working on an experiment at UCF’s Center for Microgravity Research using drop towers to simulate the space environment where these collisions happen. The findings of those experiments have given him clues about how particles interact, but as the chunks grow bigger, it appears they don’t always stick together. So then how do planets form?