Starts With A Bang

A nearby, infant star teaches us how planets begin to form (Synopsis)

Image credit: S. Andrews (Harvard-Smithsonian CfA), ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), of the ALMA image of the planet-forming disc around the young, Sun-like star TW Hydrae.

“TW Hydrae is quite special. It is the nearest known protoplanetary disc to Earth and it may closely resemble the Solar System when it was only 10 million years old.” -David Wilner

For hundreds of years since the realization that Earth and the other planets orbited the Sun, humanity had only hypotheses about how planets formed around stars. The consensus was that gas clouds collapsed along one direction first, forming a disk, which then rotated and formed instabilities, leading to the development of planetary systems.

Image credit: Mark McCughrean (Max-Planck–Inst. Astron.); C. Robert O’Dell (Rice Univ.); NASA, of protoplanetary disks in the Orion Nebula, some ~1300 light years away.

Thanks to data from the Atacama Large Millimeter/sub-millimeter Array, we’ve successfully imaged the very closest protoplanetary disk to us: TW Hydrae, at just 175 light years away, and it’s not only face-on to us, containing gas giants farther out, but likely at least one planet in the innermost ~1 A.U. of its solar system.

Image credit: S. Andrews (Harvard-Smithsonian CfA); B. Saxton (NRAO/AUI/NSF); ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), of the protoplanetary disk around TW Hydrae. Annotations by E. Siegel.

Go get the full story, and find what the frontiers of our knowledge are, over on Forbes!