Planetary Pocket Lint

In a universe filled with objects of beauty and power and general awe inspiring wonder I never expected to see dryer lint as a press conference prop.

Its always good to be surprised.

In the first press conference of the American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle Washington, astronomer James Graham of the University of California Berkeley described fluff found around the star AU Microscopii. This tiny red dwarf star is a baby at just 12 million years of age, and it is surrounded by a dust disk. The material in this disk may eventually grow into planets, but today it is simply forming snowballs.

Within the disk, parent bodies (snow balls) form via much the same physics that determines how dust bunnies form under your bed and lint balls form in the trash that you toss dryer lint into in your laundry room. When the parent bodies collide, dust particles break off. They examined the density of this material using scattered light. When light hits a surface it breaks off in a way that is directly related to the density of the material. Using polarized filters similar to the polarizers in ski goggles, they measured the materials refractive index and determined that the dust is roughly 97% empty space and 3% ice – a composition similar to snow powder.

It’s pretty neat to think that in some places pocket lint (admittedly made of frozen gases and dust) is the stuff behind the formation of planets.

I’m going to try to grab Dr. Graham to get a picture of his lint latter.

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