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Learning How to Build a Solar System

Mercury Summer 2010 Table of Contents

young star

Artist's conception of a young star veiled by its circumstellar disk.
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / R. Hurt (SSC).

by Joel D. Green

My bio may say "post-doc," but I'm actually in the planet-construction business. It certainly sounds more exotic than "post-doc." And since, in the "real world," everyone I meet has a business card, I'm now designing one for myself — it'll have a hardhat on it. This card might prove very handy should I ever run into Slartibartfast or anyone else from Magrathea.

Of course, in practical terms, what I actually do is study the construction and assembly of solar systems — how stars and planets are born from gas and dust inside giant stellar nurseries. And yes, for an astronomer, this is practical!

I focus principally on stars that are in their infancy -- ranging from less than 25 million years old all the way down to stars that are in their first 10,000 years of life (stars born around the time of the development of agriculture here on Earth). Some of these suns are barely definable as stars. They're more like slowly compressing agglomerations of gas and dust surrounded by slowly spiraling, infalling material.

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