Astronomers have captured what is claimed as “the best image ever” of planet formation around an infant star by using an international astronomy facility as part of the testing and verification process for the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array’s (ALMA) new high-resolution capabilities on Friday.
This new image reveals in astonishing detail the planet-forming disk surrounding HL Tau, a Sun-like star located approximately 450 light-years from Earth in the constellation Taurus.
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. HL Tau is no more than a million years old.
"The fact that we can see planets being born will help us understand not only how planets form around other stars but also the origin of our own Solar System," said astronomer Crystal Brogan National Radio Astronomy Observatory, a facility of the National Science Foundation in the US.
Images with this level of detail were previously only seen in computer models and artist concepts.
All stars are believed to form within clouds of gas and dust that collapse under gravity. Over time, the surrounding dust particles stick together, growing into sand, pebbles, and larger-size rocks, which eventually settle into a thin protoplanetary disk where asteroids, comets, and planets form.
Once these planetary bodies acquire enough mass, they dramatically reshape the structure of their natal disk, fashioning rings and gaps as the planets sweep their orbits clear of debris and shepherd dust and gas into tighter and more confined zones.
The new ALMA image reveals these striking features in exquisite detail, providing the clearest picture to date of planet formation, the astronomers pointed out.
However, Director of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in Charlottesville of Virginia, Tony Beasley, said, "This new and unexpected result provides an incredible view of the process of planet formation. Such clarity is essential to understand how our own Solar System came to be and how planets form throughout the Universe.”
(With inputs from IANS)