JUPITER-MASS PROTOPLANET excites "density waves" in the gas and dust of a planetary disk, as shown in this model by astronomers Douglas N. C. Lin and Geoffrey Bryden of the University of California at Santa Cruz. Those waves, seen as spiral patterns, create regions of high (red), medium (green) and low (blue) density in the disk. The protoplanet accretes gas and dust until its gravity can no longer attract surrounding material. The resulting planetary body ultimately settles into a stable orbit.

Image: Geoffrey C. Bryden and Douglas N. C. Lin
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