Where do baby planets come from? Well, this observation of a young star, resembling a solar ring-shaped protoplanetary disk, can provide an answer.
This beautiful image captured by the powerful European Southern Observatory telescope (ESO) - Atakam’s large millimeter-range grating (ALMA) - in Chile, demonstrates a disk of gas and dust surrounding the TW Hydra star 10 million years old, close enough to us ( 175 light years from Earth). We mainly observe one face of the orbital plane of the star system - these are the planes around which future planets will rotate.
And this is reminiscent of how children's planets form in these dark spaces. Their gravity sweeps the dust left after the TW Hydra was formed.
“Previous studies with optical and radio telescopes confirm that TW Hydra hosts a prominent disc with features clearly implying that the planets are beginning to unite,” said Sean Andrews from the Harvard-Smithsonian Astrophysics Center in Cambridge, Mass., And published in a journal published Astrophysical Journal Letters.
Observations of young star systems such as TW Hydra play the role of time capsules in the past of our Solar System. It is as if our “proto” solar system would look at an alien observer about 4, 5 billion years ago.
Measuring the distance of the gaps of dust from the central star, astronomers realized that probable planets are formed in 20 and 40 a. is from the star, which corresponds to the approximate orbital distances Uranus and Pluto from the Sun, respectively. But there is also one space close to the star, which looks very familiar. “The new ALMA images show the disc in unprecedented detail, revealing a series of concentric dusty bright rings and dark gaps, including intriguing features that may indicate that a planet with an Earth-like orbit is being formed,” said Andrews.
Planetary formation models show a logical meaning. After the star has been formed and launched nuclear fusion in the nucleus, the gas and dust from the molecular cloud, which were born at the beginning, are then merged into a dusty rotating disk around the young star. As the disk cools, the material begins to clump together. Dust lumps develop into rocky planetomals, which sweep more dust and debris to form protoplanets. After millions and billions of years, they turn into planets.
From the point of view of the observer, the adhesion of the material will cut the gaps in the protoplanetary disk, forming a pattern that can be seen in this stunning observation of ALMA.
To get a closer look at TW Hydra's hidden dust space, the power of the ALMA observation was increased when a long-term basic configuration was incorporated into its high resolution. The matrix consists of 66 radio antennas, so when they are at the maximum separation (thereby increasing the baseline of the observatory), they are separated by 15 kilometers (more than 9 miles). This allows the system to increase its sensitivity to see very small details in the center of the star system, which gives us an unprecedented view of the protoplanetary gap in just 1 a. e. from a star - in an orbit identical to the orbital distance of the Earth from the Sun. “This is the highest spatial resolution of the image of a protoplanetary disk ever received from ALMA, and it will not be easy to beat it in the future!” Added Andrews.
This mind-blowing observation only arrived a week after the Extra Large Array in New Mexico released detailed images of material clusters formed in the protoplanetary gap cut into the disk surrounding the HL Taurus star 1 million years old. The HL Taurus star was also studied using ALMA and its observations in 2014 were regarded by astronomers as “revolutionary”. After all, this was the first evidence that we were able to capture the formation of a children's planet.
Nevertheless, these new observations of TW Hydra can be considered even more revolutionary, as this star is much closer to Earth, and allows us to see more details in its cradle of the children's planet.
Now astronomers hope to compare both stellar protoplanetary spaces in order to see how worlds are born around stars in their formative years. And we are very lucky to have HL Taurus and TW Hydra (two stars with an age of 1 million and 10 million years). After all, they will help to put together a picture of the early evolution of the planets. At the same time, we can embark on a deep journey, full of discoveries about how our solar system developed 4, 5 billion years ago.