Europlanet Science Congress 2021
Virtual meeting
13 – 24 September 2021
Europlanet Science Congress 2021
Virtual meeting
13 September – 24 September 2021
EPSC Abstracts
Vol. 15, EPSC2021-265, 2021
European Planetary Science Congress 2021
© Author(s) 2021. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Charge moderated preplanetary growth from single grains to giant aggregates

Felix Jungmann, Jens Teiser, Maximilian Kruss, Tobias Steinpilz, Kolja Joeris, and Gerhard Wurm
Felix Jungmann et al.
  • Department of Physics, University of Duisburg-Essen, Duisburg, Germany

In early phases of planet formation, bouncing and fragmentation barriers still represent major obstacles. Beginning at micrometer, dust can readily grow to sub-millimeter size in collisions due to cohesion before bouncing prevails. Later, streaming instabilities trigger further growth which might finally results into planetesimal formation by gravitational collapse. However, for streaming instabilities sub-millimeter grains might be too small, therefore there is gap of at least 1 order of magnitude in size which needs to be bridged.

Here, we present our ongoing work how to bridge this gap by charge moderated aggregation [1]. When two (dielectric) grains collide they charge. This tribocharging or collisional charging is omnipresent in nature. We designed drop tower experiments in which we generated charges on glass and basalt grains by collisions in a shaker. In microgravity, the particle trajectories and collisions were observed, and charges were measured by applying an electric field.

In early work, we analyzed millimeter-sized glass grain collisions with a copper plate. The coefficient of restitution increased with the charge on a single grain due to mirror charge forces. That means highly charged grains tend to stick more easily to surfaces than uncharged grains. The velocity where sticking is possible was increased by a factor of 100 up to several dm/s [2].
More recently, we used half millimeter basalt spheres and observed sticking events at several cm/s among grains themselves [3]. This is also way higher than predicted by adhesion. In a number of cases, we could observe the sequential formation of aggregates of up to ten single grains. During approach the grains are accelerated due to net charge Coulomb forces but likely also due to higher order charges on the surfaces in agreement to earlier measurements of strong permanent dipole moments [4]. Attraction increases collision cross-sections and the growth is sped up. Growth only stopped by the end of microgravity [3]. 

To observe the formation of still larger aggregates we developed a new setup, in which a dense cloud of 150 µm diameter basalt grains was continuously agitated slightly under microgravity and in vacuum. Here, the growth of a giant aggregate of centimeter size was observed collecting nearly all material in one cluster [5].

To conclude, in experiments under various conditions, we see strong evidence that electrostatic charges on grains are able to conquer the bouncing barrier. We observed the bottom-up growth tracking individual particles, stable clusters emerging from dense regions and the formation of giant clusters during agitation. These are all bricks in the wall giving evidence that collisional charging might play a crucial role in planet formation.


[1] Steinpilz, T.; Joeris, K.; Jungmann, F.; Wolf, D.; Brendel, L.; Teiser, J.; Shinbrot, T.; Wurm, G. Nature Physics 2020a, 16, 225-229.

[2] Jungmann, F.; Steinpilz, T.; Teiser, J.; Wurm, G. Journal of Physics Communications 2018, 2 095009, 095009.

[3] Jungmann, F.;Wurm, G. Astronomy and Astrophysics 2021, DOI:

[4] Steinpilz, T.; Jungmann, F.; Joeris, K.; Teiser, J.; Wurm, G. New Journal of Physics 2020b, 22, 093025.

[5] Teiser, J.; Kruss, M.; Jungmann, F.; Wurm, G. The Astrophysical Journal Letters 2021, 908, L22.

How to cite: Jungmann, F., Teiser, J., Kruss, M., Steinpilz, T., Joeris, K., and Wurm, G.: Charge moderated preplanetary growth from single grains to giant aggregates, European Planetary Science Congress 2021, online, 13–24 Sep 2021, EPSC2021-265,, 2021.

Scientific presentation material