X-rays and planet formation

Discover how a powerful x-ray could lead to a better understanding of planetary formation

By: Sylvia Miller (Department of Physical Sciences)

  • Duration 5 mins
  • Updated Thursday 27th November 2008
  • Introductory level
  • Posted under Physics
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There is currently no satisfactory explanation of how planets form but it seems that conditions of extremely high temperatures and concentrations of matter are required. Recent experiments have produced matter at extreme conditions similar to those found in space when planets form.

In a recent experiment, detailed in Science, researchers investigated the changes in lithium-hydride, a material which is flammable in air and explodes when it comes into contact with water. They used a high-powered laser to deliver a very large amount of power for a very short time, creating huge sparks, or shocks, of energy within the target material.

The lithium-hydride was monitored using a powerful x-ray probe to detect the different stages that materials undergo during very rapid changes. It was found that the shock-wave produced extreme temperatures and pressures, up to 25000k and a compression factor of 3. This ability to monitor such fast, extreme conditions will enable further laboratory testing of planetary formation and modelling of planetary composition.

Find out more

Episode 3: HIV, superstitions...

'Ultrafast X-ray Thomson Scattering of Shock-Compressed Matter'
by Andrea L Kritcher, Paul Neumayer, John Castor, et al
in Science 322 pp69