CORDIS - EU research results

Sizes Matter: The Dust Size Distribution during Planet Formation

Project description

Improved models to reveal how dust particles grew into planets

The very first seeds of planets are made of micrometre-sized dust particles, which bump into one another as they orbit a star and form clumps. However, it is still unknown how these dust grains grow into the building blocks of planets. The EU-funded DUSTSPEC project will conduct hydrodynamical simulations to model dust evolution. Researchers will reconstruct the full-size distribution from sparse observations, thereby avoiding the need for expensive multi-wavelength observations. They will also compare dust and gas distributions through observation of protoplanetary discs and the composition of solar system bodies.


Planets form in discs of gas and dust around young stars. Within these discs, micron-sized dust particles need to clump together to grow 14 orders of magnitude to form Earth-like planets as well as the cores of giant planets. It is a major challenge to understand dust growth from start to finish. State of the art observations provide spectacular glimpses of the dust distribution at a limited range of sizes: ALMA produces images of the thermal emission of mm-sized dust, while instruments such as SPHERE probe the distribution of much smaller particles. However, for a comprehensive theory of planet formation, we need to understand the process from start to finish, from micron-sized to planet-sized. This is therefore the story of the dust size distribution: how many dust specks, pebbles and boulders are present? While there are large size ranges that are out of reach observationally, in this project we will exploit the fact that all dust sizes are coupled to the gas via friction to take a panoptic view of the size distribution for the first time. Since the gas feels friction from all dust sizes, the size distribution is encoded in the gas kinematics, and therefore in every single dust size as well. We will perform hydrodynamical simulations including the full dust size distribution to write the polydisperse story of planet formation. We aim to reconstruct the full size distribution from sparse observations, thereby avoiding the need for expensize multi-wavelength observations. We will compare dust and gas distributions with observations of protoplanetary discs as well as the composition of Solar system bodies. We will use a novel numerical method that allows us to perform these computationally expensive simulations, and employ machine learning to speed up the calculations. This way, we will for the first time be able to build up a complete picture of how dust particles grow into planets and construct a comprehensive model of planet formation.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 2 314 680,00
2628 CN Delft

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West-Nederland Zuid-Holland Delft en Westland
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 2 314 680,00

Beneficiaries (1)