We live on planet Earth, a pale blue dot in this limitless universe where countless planets exist and many more are born. Geoscience is still in the process of understanding how our planet may have come together along with the formation of the solar system. The concept of planetary formation is known as Nebular Hypothesis. According to this model, the star formations are composed of massive and dense clouds of molecular hydrogen.
Being gravitationally unstable in nature, smaller stars are formed from dense lumps which rotate and collapse and in some cases these stars become planets. Yet it is still unclear about the exact process of planetary formations.
With more advanced telescopes like the Hubble Space Telescope and the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (Alma) Radio Telescope have opened new gateways to help us understand how our solar system and other planetary formation may have taken shape.
Until now, scientists had only been able to see the end result of planet formation. But recently with the help of the Alma Radio Telescope, the clearest image of a planet formation around an infant star has been captured.
One can clearly see the dark rings formed within the disc of dust and gas as well as gaps in the cloud.
This young star called as HL Tau is located in the Taurus constellation about 450 light years away from Earth and is estimated to be less than a million years old. Researchers had concluded that due to the large cloud dust the formation of a planet cannot be observed using visible light.
Scientists from all over the world have welcomed this discovery which has given a boost to space exploration.
It is due to the high-resolution capabilities of the Alma Telescope that such a feat was achieved. This exceptional telescope is situated in Chile and uses longer wavelengths to detect such occurrences. With its multiple antennas spread at a distance of 15 kms apart, it is able to compare signals and take impressive images.
Although the Alma began its operations since 2011, it has been fully operational since 2013. The latest high-resolution feature of this telescope only started sending scientific observations since September 2014. Scientists first tested this new feature on the HL Tau and were amazed to witness a “protoplanetary disc“ at its clearest.
Scientists from all over the world have welcomed this discovery which has given a boost to space exploration. A senior member of the Alma team Dr. Catherine Vlahakis commented,
When we first saw this image we were astounded at the spectacular level of detail. HL Tau is no more than a million years old, yet already its disc appears to be full of forming planets.
Another scientist by the name of Prof Tim de Zeeuw said,
Most of what we know about planet formation today is based on theory. Images with this level of detail have up to now been relegated to computer simulations or artist’s impressions.
Astrophysicist Dr. Aprajita Verma, who is associated with the University of Oxford called the image phenomenal. Speaking to BBC, she said,
This shows how exciting Alma is going to be – it’s going to be an incredible instrument. I think the big result is that you might have expected just a smooth disc. But you’re really seeing multiple rings – and where it’s darker, that’s where you’ve cleared the material already in the disc.
Calling the HL Tau star very young, Dr. Verma said that the whole process was happening faster than they would have predicted from existing data.
It means that things are coagulating. It’s really a planetary system that you’re seeing at a very early time. These rings will form planets, asteroids, comets… And eventually as the star evolves, this will cool and settle and there will be more clearing and more individual objects, just like we see in our solar system.
This new discovery is just a tip of the iceberg of the vast amount of developments which take place every single moment. But as we go along, new breakthroughs will help us understand more about the complexities of the universe and maybe along the way we will find the source of our own existence.