Jul 20, 2019 | Updated: 08:54 AM EDT

What the Taurus Constellation Can Teach Us About Our Solar System’s Birth

Nov 07, 2014 03:52 AM EST

HL Tau's protoplanetary disk is filled with multiple rings and gaps that herald emerging planets.
(Photo : ALMA) HL Tau's protoplanetary disk is filled with multiple rings and gaps that herald emerging planets.

Modern science and comprehensive modeling can do a lot to show us what has happened and what has yet to come. But in spite of the vast advancements and diminishing limitations that researchers face in today's world of science, there is still one central question that has yet to be answered: how our existence and the existence of our Earth, came to be.

There are creationist theories, Big Bang theories, and even more temporarily defined hypotheses about how the planets of our solar system came to be, but modern research has yet to find conclusive empirical evidence to show us exactly how our solar system's birth happened, 4.5 billion years ago. That is, until now!

While astronomers have witnessed forming galaxies in the past, many of these far-off events are too far to be well-documented and researched. And the stars in our nearby systems are often far too young to see such planets formations. But, using a powerful and one-of-a-kind imaging system known as the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in the nation of Chile, astronomers have found that a star system in the nearby Taurus constellation has just ended its gestational period and is giving birth to planets at the age of a mere one million years old.

Images of the star system known as "HL Tauri", only a mere 450 light-years away, were captured earlier this week revealing planet-forming dust disks surrounding the sun-like star. Known as a "protoplanetary" disk for its importance in forming planetary masses, the images captured by ALMA show distinct orbits and rings surrounding the star much like those of our very own solar system.

"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."

After a star comes to life from the collapse of a star-forming nebula, residual dust and gases surrounding the new star cool down and collect forming the distinct disks in its outer orbit. Small particles aggregate, forming larger and larger masses that grow from pebbles to asteroids, and ultimately planets.

As the planetary masses continue to grow, their gravitational pull becomes even stronger, defining the concentric rings we see throughout the solar system. And it's a model that astronomers believe our very own solar system followed when planets formed billions of years ago.

"When we first saw this image, we were astounded at the spectacular level of detail" ALMA Deputy Program Scientist, Catherine Vlahakis says. "HL Tauri is no more than a million years old yet already its disc appears to be full of forming planets. This one image alone will revolutionize theories of planet formation."

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