The best image yet of the birth of a solar system


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HL Tau

The new ground-based telescope ALMA has taken an amazing image of a baby star and the planet-forming accretion disk that surrounds it.

ALMA uncovered never-before-seen features in this system, including multiple concentric rings separated by clearly defined gaps. These structures suggest that planet formation is already well underway around this remarkably young star. “These features are almost certainly the result of young planet-like bodies that are being formed in the disk. This is surprising since HL Tau is no more than a million years old and such young stars are not expected to have large planetary bodies capable of producing the structures we see in this image,” said ALMA Deputy Director Stuartt Corder.

ALMA has just been completed and is only in its initial shake-out period. It is also not an optical telescope, but observes in longer wavelengths above infrared. Thus, it can peer through dust clouds to see details like this. And these details confirm that the most accepted theory of planetary formation appears to be right.

3 comments

  • mpthompson

    Very interesting image. Some of the thinner rings appear to have a mottled appearance similar to the dust rings around Saturn associated with moonlets.

    Useful information I didn’t is how large the disk is. Are these rings on the scale of the inner solar system, outer solar system or much larger?

  • PeterF

    This is awesome! I wonder if any of the gaps are in what will eventually be the “Goldilocks” zone?

  • steve mac

    With gravity as the driver behind the accretion models, I find this a rather large pill to swallow. This is probably a lack of understanding on my part, but in trying to imagine the actual mechanics of this clumping and merging I fear I’m coming up short.

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