Project Space: Planet Formation!

Members: Barracuda, Lionking, Tapirid, Kittyhawk

ASPIRE Mentor: Matt Gilbert

We spent a lot of time talking with Matt Gilbert a scientist from UBC about our interest in Space.  Many fascinating topics arose such as the mysteries of Black Holes, Exploding Stars, space travel, and the extreme environments on planets. We finally settled on the study of how the Solar System was formed in the first place.  Our research question or inquiry will have to do with trying to simulate the “Birth of a Planet”.

Background Information:
To begin with we decided we would watch a variety of videos that gave an explanation of how the solar system came to be.  Below are some of the videos we used.

National Geographic:  Birth of the Solar System | Naked Science

Stephen Hawking: Formation of the Solar System

National Geographic: Birth of The Solar System (Full episode)

First ScienceTV:  How was our solar system created?

Daily Conversation  NASA: The Formation of the Solar System

OHMS:  Science Videos:  The Nebular Theory

Neil deGrasse Tyson: Why Solar Systems & Galaxies Form Disks

Experiment may involve:
Simulation using different size and density particles

Our research question:
How did galaxies, solar systems and planets come together?
How do different materials/objects effect planet formation?

Experimental design ideas:

  1. Big trampoline with people on it .
  2. Spandex or rubber over the pool/garbage can.
  3. Measure time using fps slow motion?
  4. Different balls/ weights/ speeds/ sizes
  5. Dots on weight to measure speed?
  6. Diameter
  7. Different balls represent different things
  8. Drop times ( same time , different times ,)
  9. Clay on bearings/weights?
  10. Temperature effects ?
  11. Gas planet formation?
  12. Free standing frame ?
  13. Gravity Visualized  Daniel Burns
  14. Construction option: spandex with circular frame

Developing a way to visualize gravity and planet formation.

NEWTON’S Theory of Gravity
Below Lionking is demonstrating Newton’s idea of how the planets were kept in orbit.

Newton's Theory of Gravity
A planet like the earth is kept in orbit by an invisible force caused by the sun.
THREAD = Force of Gravity
In the video below, KittyHawk is creating a simulation of an interstellar molecular cloud (accumulation of gas, plasma and dust).  The weights in her hands represent its huge mass, that to begin with, is spread out far from its centre.  In this position the rotating chair represents the relatively small rotation of the molecular cloud.  Over the next ten million years, gravity will pull material in towards the centre forming a larger mass.  As the mass at the centre of the cloud increases, the cloud spins faster and faster which in turn attracts more material toward the centre.  Did you see the speed of chair’s rotation increase when Kittyhawk draws the mass to her centre?  Finally, as more gas squeezes together the cloud collapses under the force of heat and gravity to become a star.

Interstellar Molecular Cloud
The interstellar cloud is spread out with a great deal of mass far from the centerGravity pulls material to the center of the molecular cloud and as the mass contracts, the once slow rotating cloud speeds up.
Aden SpinAustin Spin

Einstien gravity sm borderEINSTEIN’s Gravity   After watching a portion of the Nova PBS series, “The Elegant Universe”  we explored Einstein’s idea of gravity.  According to Brian Greene, Einstein viewed the three dimensions of space and the single dimension of time as bound together in a single fabric of spacetime.  Like the surface of a trampoline this uniform fabric is warped and stretched by heavy objects like the planets and stars and it is this warping or curving of spacetime that creates what we feel as gravity. The earth is held in orbit simply because it follows the curves in the special fabric caused by the sun’s presence.

Our group’s first attempt at simulating Einstein’s explanation of gravity involved a trampoline, weights and marbles. The trampoline we used was not flexible or large enough to get the kind of curvature needed to do a proper simulation.

Next, we searched online for a type of “stretchy” fabric called lycra.  Once the lycra arrived we placed it over a hoola hoop and explored the movement of objects on our new fabric of spacetime.

Exploring ways to simulate Einstein's idea of the Fabric of SpaceTimeLinks
BOYS Fabric Space time SimDenver Museum of Nature and Science, Gravity Demo


Next we tried to create a larger circular structure using tent poles.  When we tried to stretch the lycra over the tent pole frame it was too flimsy to support it.

Spacetime Simulator Construction

We decided to ask Matthew to help us with creating a standing frame using PVC Piping.  We also received some advice from Daniel  Burns (a Physics Teacher at Los  Gatos High School  in California) who sent us a link to the resource we used  as a guide to build our own  Fabric of Space Simulator

Below is a time lapse showcasing our ambitious attempt to build our own Fabric of Space Simulator.



Fabric of spacetime demonstrations

Demonstration One

Objects or matter warp space time. The 10 pound weight bends the fabric of space creating an extra dimension that you cant see when you look up to space. The extra dimension creates a curvature that keeps the planets in orbit. In the simulation the objects lose energy (which wouldnt happen in the solar system ) and spiral in. We noticed if you do not push the marbles as hard it creates a elipse , we also noticed the greater the mass in the middle the larger the curviture (gravity) .

Demonstration Two

The big marble also created a mini curvature that attracts other smaller marbles as they are losing energy and being pulled to the centre.

Demonstration Three (normal speed)

All the small marbles group up at the start because a group of them make a divot and the other small marbles go into the divot because the divot attracts them. t

Demonstration Three (4X fast foward)

Tapirid thought that this video of the object orbiting on the Fabtic of Spacetime looked like a Nasa image of a galaxy.
Which galaxy do you think the simulation looks like?

Einstein’s Fabric of Spacetime

Large Bearing - Average Time of Rotation = 5.5s
Hollow Plastic Ball - Average Time of Rotation = 8.2s
Med. Marble - Average Time of Rotation = 19.2

Data Collection
We used round objects of different sizes (mass and diameter) and our space model to determine if particle size and density were related to how long particles would stay in orbit around a large central object. The figure below shows our main finding, which is that for solid filled objects medium diameter objects orbit the longest and small and large objects orbit for shorter periods. We suspect that we found these results because larger objects may require greater force to achieve speed they needed to stay in orbit and smaller objects didn’t have enough inertia to stay in orbit as long.




Hey Space Group,

You did an impressive job making sense of a very intellectually challenging topic. Although we had limited time at the end of the year you collected some very interesting data and video that really helps simplify some of the complexities of processes involved in the creation of planets, solar systems and galaxies. I know it has certainly helped my understanding. Beyond the complex nature of your topic, I was also impressed with your resourcefulness and broad skillset you demonstrated and continued to develop while researching, designing, carrying out and documenting your experiment. You used everything from plumbing tools to website development and in the end created a model and resource that will be used by RLA students for years to come.

All the best at FNSS next year,

Matt Gilbert