Our best ever glance of planets being born around a distant star has been caught by the world’s largest telescope array. The researchers analyzed the image that reveals; young stars can form planets much earlier than formerly believed, which could have implications for how our own solar system developed.
Way back in September, astronomers reconfigured the 66 radio antennas of the ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array) in Chile. The antennas can be moved across the desert to change how closely the array focuses in on a target. This reconfiguration involved moving them so that they were up to 15 kilometers apart, the furthest they have been that allows them to make the crispest images yet in these wavelengths.
The ALMA team pointed the dishes at HL Tauri, a star 450 light years away, in order to test it out.
Catherine Vlahakis, ALMA scientist said, “With this new competence of ALMA we are able to see at much higher resolution than before.”
The researchers said, “We were surprised by the sightings: though it is only a million year old, HL Tauri is already growing a family of planets. The planets develop when the dust and gas surrounding a star is spun into a disc, and gravity forces it into clumps.These clumps grow as they gather up larger and larger particles to create planets, leaving behind the gaps in the discs.
The imitations envisaged that a star at HL Tauri’s comparatively young age should host an unbroken disc, but ALMA has now seen a clear structure of concentric rings and gaps around the star – the first such observation until now.
Vlahakis said, “It was almost too good to be true. With previous observations our best images looked like unresolved blobs.”
The recent ALMA’s image proposes that the planets can spring up more swiftly than earlier believed. These findings can now be used to update the imitations, giving us a clearer picture of our own past.
“By studying such systems, we can find out how our own solar system formed,” Vlahakis say.