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Birth Of A Solar System: This Is The First Ever High-Resolution Image Of Planet Formation

Feast your eyes, my good curious friends, on this — by far the clearest image ever taken of a very young star and its newly formed protoplanetary disk. In this spectacular image you can see the young star HL Tau, which is just about one million years old. This image is truly a marvel of science.

Around this star, dust and gas swirl, slowly developing into planets and asteroids. You may or may not believe it but a few billion years ago, this is precisely what our very own Solar System would’ve looked like.

This amazing image was taken by ALMA. ALMA stands for the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array. It is a huge telescope consisting of 66 separate antennas, situated high up in the Atacama Desert in northern parts of Chile. ALMA is operated by the European Southern Observatory (ESO). According to ESO this image comes from some of the telescopes first observations in its “new and most powerful mode”.

ALMA has been under construction for years, but only a few year ago, they have connected sufficient antennas and relocated them into the right position for high-res deep-space imaging.

In the very middle of the photo is HL Tau, a very young star. It is located about 450 light years away from Earth in the constellation of Taurus. Earlier observations had suggested that there was a big dust cloud around HL Tau, but it wasn’t until ALMA focused on the star that the nature of this particular dust cloud became obvious.

Observing a protoplanetary disk in such aspect is cutting-edge — and gazing upon such a disk around a star that’s just one million years old is astonishing. Astronomer previously believed that it took a lot longer for a young star’s cloud of dust and gas to develop, through gravity, into planets and asteroids.

The slits between the rings of the disk, parenthetically, are the revealing sign that planets and asteroids are presently being formed.

As gravity causes larger and larger piles of rock and gas, they sweep up more dust and gas — successfully growing and leaving out gaps in the disk as they remain to orbit the star. This is the similar course by which the mighty rings of Saturn were shaped.
This image compares the size of the Solar System with HL Tauri and its surrounding protoplanetary disc. Although the star is much smaller than the Sun, the disc around HL Tauri stretches out to almost three times as far from the star as Neptune is from the Sun.

Back here on Earth, this high-resolution iamge of HL Tau’s protoplanetary disk will optimistically tell us a lot about how our very own Solar System formed, nearly four billion years ago. Beforehand, we could only make educated speculation and mimic the formation of planets and stars — but now, thanks to ALMA, we can truly watch it occur in the real world, in nearly real time.

This image was taken back in 2014 and is considered as a breakthrough in planetary formation. Science is pretty awesome, right?

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