HONORABLE MENTION - Aaron Geller, Jason Hwang & Fred Rasio: When Worlds Collide

We have discovered thousands of planets outside our own Solar System. Some of these “exoplanet” systems are much more tightly packed than ours.  In such a system, what would happen if two planets the size of Jupiter collided?

This team designed highly-specialized computer programs to model what might happen. This image shows the simulated planetary system shortly after collision. The two circles represent the planets’ original orbits. (They crashed where the orbits were very close together on the right-hand side.)  The spiraling cloud is plan-etary matter sprayed out across the system. The bright object near the bottom of the image could be a new planet forming from the remains--notice how it no longer follows either of the original orbits.

Some currently observed exoplanets may have undergone such a collision (or collisions) many years ago. Cutting-edge simulations like these help us understand how planets form and how they can change over time. 

Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration & Research in Astrophysics (CIERA)

Tools & Techniques: Computer simulation laid over a NASA Kepler telescope image

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