Nov 06, 2014 06:57 PM EST
Well it appears that the cosmic gestational period is over, and astronomers are catching a glimpse at what happens next. This week researchers at the Chilean Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) observatory have revealed that in the constellation Taurus, that new life is forming-or at least new planets.
Utilizing the one-of-a-kind high-resolution imaging techniques employed by ALMA, the scientists were able to distinguish that planet-forming dust disks around the infant, sun-like star "HL Tau" are indeed areas of new planets being born. And it's an unusual "protoplanetary" disk, researchers say, given the star's young age.
Only 450 light-years from earth and an estimated one million years old, HL Tau is one of our solar system's closest and newest neighbors on the cosmic block. By observing the development of the HL Tau solar system, expected to be created in conditions much like those that gave rise to our solar system, researchers have thought that they may need to wait for a while before they'd see these creation events. But as it turns out, astronomers believe the distinct protoplanetary disks are a tell-tale sign of emerging planetary bodies.
"These features are almost certainly the result of young planet-like bodies that are being formed in the disk" Deputy Director of ALMA, Stuartt Corder says. "This is surprising since HL Tau is no more than a million years old and such young stars are not expected to have large planetary bodies capable of producing the structures we see in this image."
However, in spite of the unlikely events, astronomers at ALMA and other similar observatories worldwide are formulating a likely situation that gave rise to HL Tau's new planetary formations. Previously only visible in computer models and artistic renderings of how solar systems take shape, the image of an emerging HL Tau presents a clear story in spite of the dust and pebbles.
As the planet-forming process begins, young emerging bodies form and pick up debris as they establish their orbit around the star, and this creates the disk-like gaps we see above. And as the planetary masses continue to grow, their gravitational pull becomes even stronger, defining the concentric rings we see throughout the solar system.
"This new and unexpected result provides an incredible view of the process of planet formation" director of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory who manages ALMA operations in North America, Tony Beasley says. "Such clarity is essential to understand how our own solar system came to be, and how planets form throughout the universe."
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