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Gas Giants (Jupiter-like planets) form faster

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Fast-Forming Planets

If the disk of gas around a young star wants to form Jupiter-size planets, it’s got to do it fast, according to research announced on Monday at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Long Beach, California.

Theoretical models of protoplanetary disks show that dust bits, rocks, and ice will clump together to form "planetesimals," the asteroid-like seeds of future planets. When one becomes large enough to have noticeable gravity it starts to pulls stuff in faster and begins runaway growth. If it accumulates several Earth masses of solid material, its gravity becomes great enough to pull in and hold onto large quantities of gas from the disk — dozens to hundreds of Earth masses of it. Voilà, a Jupiter is born!

Most computer models have indicated that this "core-accretion" process for giant planets takes 5 to 10 million years. But new results, from Thayne Currie (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) and his colleagues, push this timescale down to only 4 or 5 million years. Using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, they studied protoplanetary disks in the star cluster NGC 2362 in Canis Major, well known to amateur telescope users. Previous research had narrowed down the age of this cluster to about 5 million years.

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