A Picture Captures Planets Waiting to Be Born

We might be stardust, Joni Mitchell sang of Woodstock in 1969, resounding what was at present a half-century of hard-headed astronomical truth. But astrophysicists have struggled to comprehend just precisely how stardust goes from being cosmic smog, littering the lanes of the galaxy, to planets and people.

Lately, however, astrophysicists using the Atacama Large Millimeter/sub-millimeter Array, or ALMA, an international radio telescope in the high desert of Chile, got what might be the best picture yet of dust in the act of converting into planets.

It displays a young star named HL Tauri, about 450 light-years from here and thus in the constellation of Taurus. The star is enclosed by a glowing disk of dust and gas around 22 billion miles across — about four times the size of Neptune’s orbit, which limits the realm of official planets in our own solar system ever since the outlier Pluto was bounced from the world of planets. 

That, the ALMA astrophysicists who took the picture say, is most likely the sign of a new planetary system in the creation. As clumps of dust mounts up and grow into planets at several distances from the star, they gobble up the dust near them, scouring clear paths around the star and leaving a pattern of bright and dark rings, described Catherine Vlahakis, an ALMA astrophysicist.

The ALMA picture signifies only the end of the start of a long cycle of birth and death for stars and planets.

Below video explains it all very beautifully:



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