Amidst the swirling gas and dust surrounding young stars, asteroids and planets form. Just how these bodies come together – especially before they are massive enough to exert any significant gravitational potential – is an open question. Researchers are trying to better understand the physics involved by studying how clusters of granular material behave when impacted.
Above you see footage from two experiments. Both take place in a drop tower under vacuum conditions. That means the effects of air drag and gravity are removed, just like in space. On the left, the cluster is made up of soft clumps of dust; on the right, the cluster contains hard glass beads. Surprisingly, the researchers found that the two different materials behave the same way. They were able to describe both sets of impacts with exactly the same model. This suggests there may be an underlying universal behavior behind all of these granular materials, though the researchers note more experiments are needed. (Image and research credit: H. Karsuragi and J. Blum; via APS Physics)