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14 March 2006
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Planet Formation

One of the hot areas in astronomy right now is "planets."  In just a bit over a decade our state of knowledge has gone from "Earth is a planet, we think other stars have planets, too" to "Wow!  Look at all them planets!"  Quite a bit of progress!  Concomitant with our enhanced knowledge of the existence of extrasolar planets has been the increase knowledge of how they are formed.  When I was in grade school planetary distances followed Bode's law for reasons unknown, and the asteroid belt was formed from the breakup of some planet that should have been there.  We can now observe circumstellar disks, we believe planets are formed in only millions of years, and in general are making rapid progress in understanding what's going on.

I am not an astronomer, although I try to pay attention.  Always looking for a way to contribute to the art, it occurs to me that we have a perfect model for planetary formation under our beds.  Disregarding subtle differences - gravity, atmospheric pressure, chemistry, and the like, doesn't it seem like dustbunnies have a lot in common with protoplanets?  Maybe it's time for some serious academic writing.

Joni Mitchell sang "We are stardust."  (I think Carl Sagan must have said it too; I hope he didn't sing it.)  Planets, dustbunnies, all stardust!

2006
Richard Factor