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Small Planets: Signposts to the Beginning of Life

Press Release No. 223/2010
8 October 2010
Heidelberg scientists coordinate DFG Priority Programme on the early solar system


The conditions required for life to emerge are the subject of a new Priority Programme that the German Research Foundation (DFG) has established under the title “The First Ten Million Years of the Solar System”. From the analysis of extraterrestrial material like meteorites, the scientists involved hope to draw conclusions about the planet formation process that took place 4.5 billion years ago. Funding of approx. 4 million euros has been approved for the 36 projects constituting the first two years of research work in the priority programme. The coordinators of the project are earth scientists Prof. Dr. Mario Trieloff of Heidelberg University and Prof. Dr. Klaus Mezger of Berne University (Switzerland).

In these investigations the material of small bodies like asteroids and comets will play a crucial role. The point is that these bodies have not “made it” to the formation of a large planet. Instead they got “bogged down” at the small-planet stage and remained so-called planetesimals. “This means they have preserved unaltered relics of interim dust and rock composition on the way to the formation of larger planetary bodies,” says Prof. Trieloff. The scientists have meteorites and comet-dust samples at their disposal for investigation.

Among other things, the priority programme (SPP 1385) encompasses investigations of interstellar material from which the first small planets and planetesimals evolved. Isotope dating will be used to define the space of time in which 100-kilometre asteroids formed. The scientists will also be examining the heating and the chemical and physical development of planetesimals.

The research projects are spread out across 17 locations in Germany. Also involved is Berne University’s Institute of Geology. The research work to be undertaken in Heidelberg will receive 1.3 million euros in funding. Participating from the university are the Institute of Earth Sciences, the Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics, the Kirchhoff Institute for Physics and the Institute of Astronomical Computing, joined by the Max Planck Institutes for Astronomy and Nuclear Physics.

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Prof. Dr. Mario Trieloff
Institute of Earth Sciences
phone: +49 6221 546022

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