Scientists may have figured out how dust particles can stick together to form planets, according to a Rutgers co-authored study that may also help to improve industrial processes.

In homes, adhesion on contact can cause fine particles to form dust bunnies. Similarly in outer space, adhesion causes dust particles to stick together. Large particles, however, can combine due to gravity—an essential process in forming asteroids and planets. But between these two extremes, how aggregates grow has largely been a mystery until now.

The study, published in the journal Nature Physics, found that particles under microgravity—similar to conditions believed to be in interplanetary space—develop strong electrical charges spontaneously and stick together, forming large aggregates. Remarkably, although like charges repel, like-charged aggregates form nevertheless, apparently because the charges are so strong that they polarize one another and therefore act like magnets.



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