Interstellar Dust and the Formation of Stars

Is dust beautiful and shiny? Of course not. How about the red sunsets and the colors of the rainbow and yes, even the stars themselves? Aren’t those beautiful? Of course. Those two questions and answers explain that beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder, and what is not see often is not contributory, but only in looks. What goes on behind the scenes – how dust reacts in an electrified environment, as an example, is likewise beautiful in its own way.

The beauty of a red sunset is caused by the brilliant departing sun shining through dust particles in the atmosphere. And the same with stars, they are, theoretically at least, not much more than masses of dust, held together cohesively with magnetic forces. Dust is, in its finest sense particles of dirt ground down by wind and other forces to a fineness that makes it light enough to go wherever the force of a gentle breeze, or a strong wind, pushes it.

On earth, dust gets a bad press, in the solar system when it gets together with gases and magnetic forces it makes headlines. The stars need dust and they attract it in various ways. How is this known? Laboratories on earth, The Dusty Plasma Laboratory, for one, studies the reactions of dust when it floats around and in between the stars.

In fact dust is such a big deal with the stars that instruments are created to measure its impact. In these experiments dust is magnetized and held suspended in order to study their reactions.  Studies being done that simulate the atmospheric conditions of space in laboratories on earth, want to know more how dust reacts in reality. That is how these minute particles behave in their natural habitat, the solar system. In other words, how do the react to the stars?

Conclusions are that dust in space – and there is plenty of it from all the grinding force of gravity and radiation that chips off bits from collisions and other impacts – react in amazing ways. Left alone to float wherever it floats, it according to its makeup, and how it attracts other forces that either pull it in, making it a part of a array, or pushes it farther away toward some other force, is information being sought by the those experimenting.  Left alone in the lower atmosphere it probably just drifts toward earth, landing on  writers’ dusty bookshelves.  

Since dust can come from any larger object that was cemented together by gravitational forces and coming apart when the pull outside is greater, it says by such actions, all dust particles are not equal. Dust, refers to those minute particles in the air that attract each other and form piles of dust that collect in areas will little pressure behind them. The scientists studying them are discovering some starling and exciting behavior pattens when dust is mixed with plasma. It leads to experiments such as this one by the Space Science Lab:

“Charged dust particles immersed in a plasma and radiative environment within the magnetospheres of Saturn and Uranus influence the diameter and composition of their rings.” (Catherine Venturini in her article What is Dusty Plasma? It was written 12/7/99.)

In other words, the dazzling rings of Saturn have their share of electrified dust, one could conclude.  In explaining the purpose of their work they believe it is important to learn how dust gets electrified or charged. By what forces out there in the space cause them to become a part of a star, not a part, is one example of probably what kind of information these scientist seek.

In simple, everyday words, their work is simply trying to simulate the atmosphere of outer space activity to get a first hand look at how objects are put together.  As guidelines to learn more about how interstellar dust is involved in the formation of the stars, they carefully follow the notes of the astronauts and other scientists that have undertaken various missions in space. Then they try to simulate these in the laboratory and then record the various reactions.

While these machines and sterile lab environments in no way compare to the beauty of a starry, starry night filled with wonder and beauty, they have a beauty of knowledge all their own. Understanding the various reactions of dust to other chemical simulations may prove, in the final analysis, to show similar effects these may have on the human body, as one example.