What is it about?

We introduce an experimental apparatus suited for the study of particle dynamics and rarefied gas under micro-gravity (weightlessness) conditions. This facility contains three experiments dedicated to studying aerodynamic processes, i) the development of pressure gradients due to collective particle-gas interaction, ii) the drag coecients of dust aggregates with variable particle-gas velocity, iii) the eff ect of dust on the profile of a shear flow and resultant onset of turbulence.

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Why is it important?

The field of planetary system formation relies extensively on our understanding of the aerodynamic interaction between gas and dust in protoplanetary disks. Of particular importance are the mechanisms triggering fluid instabilities and clumping of dust particles into aggregates, and their subsequent inclusion into planetesimals, such as comets and asteroids. The mechanisms investigated are also relevant for our understanding of the emission of dust from active surfaces such as cometary nuclei and new experimental data will help interpreting previous datasets (Rosetta) and prepare future spacecraft observations (Comet Interceptor). The outcome will be a comprehensive framework to test models and numerical recipes for studying collective dust particle aerodynamics under space-like conditions.


There are many novel aspects to this project. First, it is special because the method is unique: instead of using telescopes or computer simulations to understand the origins of planetary systems, we perform physics experiments in the absence of gravity. Second, the special conditions needed to match those found in interplanetary space are unique, particularly since the 'fluid' we study is unlike fluids on Earth, but rather a gas under vacuum. For these reasons, no previous experiments have been able to address such complex problems in multi-phase flow under vacuum, despite its importance for fundamental questions in astrophysics. Unique scientific requirements lead to unique technical solutions, and therefore result in innovations to existing measurement technology. This publication gives the details of the technical challenges that were met to enable new studies related to the earliest stages of our planetary system's formation.

Holly Capelo
Universitat Bern

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: TEMPus VoLA: The timed Epstein multi-pressure vessel at low accelerations, Review of Scientific Instruments, October 2022, American Institute of Physics, DOI: 10.1063/5.0087030.
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