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The question of how star and planet formation proceeds is a focus of the work of Curator Mordecai-Mark Mac Low. The clouds of interstellar gas from which stars form are not quiescent, but rather in a state of hypersonic turbulence. Mac Low and his colleagues find that these extreme turbulent motions appear to determine the speed with which the gas collapses into stars, and perhaps also the distribution of stellar masses.
In galaxies, these turbulent motions appear to provide stability against gravitational collapse to the gas between the stars. The balance between turbulent support and self-gravity of the gas then determines the star formation rate. Mac Low and his colleagues are also pursuing models of the formation and migration of planetesimals in protoplanetary disks to understand the building blocks available for the formation of terrestrial planets.