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Article

Morris Podolak

Modern observational techniques are still not powerful enough to directly view planet formation, and so it is necessary to rely on theory. However, observations do give two important clues to the formation process. The first is that the most primitive form of material in interstellar space exists as a dilute gas. Some of this gas is unstable against gravitational collapse, and begins to contract. Because the angular momentum of the gas is not zero, it contracts along the spin axis, but remains extended in the plane perpendicular to that axis, so that a disk is formed. Viscous processes in the disk carry most of the mass into the center where a star eventually forms. In the process, almost as a by-product, a planetary system is formed as well. The second clue is the time required. Young stars are indeed observed to have gas disks, composed mostly of hydrogen and helium, surrounding them, and observations tell us that these disks dissipate after about 5 to 10 million years. If planets like Jupiter and Saturn, which are very rich in hydrogen and helium, are to form in such a disk, they must accrete their gas within 5 million years of the time of the formation of the disk. Any formation scenario one proposes must produce Jupiter in that time, although the terrestrial planets, which don’t contain significant amounts of hydrogen and helium, could have taken longer to build. Modern estimates for the formation time of the Earth are of the order of 100 million years. To date there are two main candidate theories for producing Jupiter-like planets. The core accretion (CA) scenario supposes that any solid materials in the disk slowly coagulate into protoplanetary cores with progressively larger masses. If the core remains small enough it won’t have a strong enough gravitational force to attract gas from the surrounding disk, and the result will be a terrestrial planet. If the core grows large enough (of the order of ten Earth masses), and the disk has not yet dissipated, then the planetary embryo can attract gas from the surrounding disk and grow to be a gas giant. If the disk dissipates before the process is complete, the result will be an object like Uranus or Neptune, which has a small, but significant, complement of hydrogen and helium. The main question is whether the protoplanetary core can grow large enough before the disk dissipates. A second scenario is the disk instability (DI) scenario. This scenario posits that the disk itself is unstable and tends to develop regions of higher than normal density. Such regions collapse under their own gravity to form Jupiter-mass protoplanets. In the DI scenario a Jupiter-mass clump of gas can form—in several hundred years which will eventually contract into a gas giant planet. The difficulty here is to bring the disk to a condition where such instabilities will form. Now that we have discovered nearly 3000 planetary systems, there will be numerous examples against which to test these scenarios.

Article

The formation and evolution of our solar system (and planetary systems around other stars) are among the most challenging and intriguing fields of modern science. As the product of a long history of cosmic matter evolution, this important branch of astrophysics is referred to as stellar-planetary cosmogony. Interdisciplinary by way of its content, it is based on fundamental theoretical concepts and available observational data on the processes of star formation. Modern observational data on stellar evolution, disc formation, and the discovery of extrasolar planets, as well as mechanical and cosmochemical properties of the solar system, place important constraints on the different scenarios developed, each supporting the basic cosmogony concept (as rooted in the Kant-Laplace hypothesis). Basically, the sequence of events includes fragmentation of an original interstellar molecular cloud, emergence of a primordial nebula, and accretion of a protoplanetary gas-dust disk around a parent star, followed by disk instability and break-up into primary solid bodies (planetesimals) and their collisional interactions, eventually forming a planet. Recent decades have seen major advances in the field, due to in-depth theoretical and experimental studies. Such advances have clarified a new scenario, which largely supports simultaneous stellar-planetary formation. Here, the collapse of a protosolar nebula’s inner core gives rise to fusion ignition and star birth with an accretion disc left behind: its continuing evolution resulting ultimately in protoplanets and planetary formation. Astronomical observations have allowed us to resolve in great detail the turbulent structure of gas-dust disks and their dynamics in regard to solar system origin. Indeed radio isotope dating of chondrite meteorite samples has charted the age and the chronology of key processes in the formation of the solar system. Significant progress also has been made in the theoretical study and computer modeling of protoplanetary accretion disk thermal regimes; evaporation/condensation of primordial particles depending on their radial distance, mechanisms of clustering, collisions, and dynamics. However, these breakthroughs are yet insufficient to resolve many problems intrinsically related to planetary cosmogony. Significant new questions also have been posed, which require answers. Of great importance are questions on how contemporary natural conditions appeared on solar system planets: specifically, why the three neighbor inner planets—Earth, Venus, and Mars—reveal different evolutionary paths.

Article

The subject of astronomy in folk tradition, or folk astronomy, requires some explication. It is, for instance, not the same as ethnoastronomy, which primarily studies the astronomical ideas of contemporary societies. However, the subject overlaps with archaeoastronomy when defined widely as the interdisciplinary study of prehistoric, ancient, and traditional astronomies worldwide within their cultural context that includes both written and archaeological records. The most useful definition of “astronomy in folk tradition” might be “astronomy of the people or of the common man,” or even “lay astronomy,” left to us through tradition, where the term “astronomy” may, for further clarity, be replaced by “ideas and observations of the sky.” In any case, it is worth keeping in mind that the content of folk astronomy of one society may overlap with the content of established astronomy of another society at another time and place. Scientific ideas or theories have their roots in the past, even before the advent of any “experts.” Folk astronomy of the past is often less accessible for historical studies than mainstream astronomy, especially in a society leaving few records or artifacts. Revealing sources may, however, be found by looking beyond the conventional. For instance, various sources on mythology and religion may give information on the astronomical and cosmological ideas of previous societies. Purportedly fictional literature, like the works of Dante and Chaucer, may also yield information of this kind, although they were not explicitly composed for that purpose. But there are also writers who have deliberately written on the astronomical ideas of their society at their time, although their works were outside of the best known corpus and sometimes intended for common people. Two Old Norse examples are the 13th-century Norwegian King’s Mirror and the Icelandic 12th- to 14th-century material edited in the volume of Alfræði íslenzk II. Among other things, these sources treat phenomena that are not observable outside the subarctic region. A third example is the 14th–15th century North European Seebuch with practical information for seamen, partly linked to astronomy. In any case, two types of folk astronomy can be distinguished: (a) practical astronomy that people use as a tool in daily life, for example, to determine the time of day or year, or for travel and navigation; (b) ideas related to cosmology or cosmogony, religion, or supernatural beliefs, which would neither imply practical uses nor consequences.