Pac-Man' and 'Mario Kart': How to Understand Planet Formation | 2/16/2018 | Staff
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NEW YORK — On a chilly February night, astronomy enthusiasts of all ages gathered inside the Kaufmann Theater within the American Museum of Natural History for a special after-hours event. They made their way past sculptures invoking Jupiter and Mercury, which offered reminders that planets, albeit much more distant ones, would be E.T.'s subject. Yes, the lecture on alien worlds was led by a person with those initials, and it was the delightful first joke of the night.

This illustration depicts a protoplanetary disc around a newborn star, the gas and dust that doesn't become part of a star, and provides the building blocks for planets. Rocky planets form closer to the star, and beyond the ice line where water freezes, gas giants form. However, planets sometimes migrate, so the orbit they take when building up isn't always the orbit they keep around a star.

Exoplanet - Discoveries - Worlds - Star - TRAPPIST-1

There have been several recent mind-blowing exoplanet discoveries: the many worlds orbiting the star TRAPPIST-1 — some of which could have liquid water — and surprising "hot-Jupiter" gas giants orbiting very close to their parent stars shatter the idea that our solar system is the only planetary setup.

Creative references to video games like "Pac-Man" and "Mario Kart" were highlights of the "Dangerous Worlds" lecture. Oh, and there was also a brief but memorable mention of a highly toxic gas used in early exoplanet detection.

Tasker - Planets - Stars

"The 1990s is scarily recent, at least I still think it is," Tasker said. "Why did it take us so long to find planets around other stars? It's not like we didn't think they'd be there."

"The problem with stars is that they're really big and they're really bright, and planets are really scriffy and really dim, so it's super hard to see them at a big distance," she added.

Stage - Formation

The "'Pac-Man' stage" of planetary formation...
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