Image is of planet-forming disc surrounding sun-like star, HL Tau
You’d be forgiven for thinking this incredible picture is an artist’s impression of a planet forming around a star.
But it is in fact the most detailed real image of a planet’s birth ever taken, revealing a phenomenon astronomers could only theorise about a few decades ago – and one that could help explain how the solar system formed.
The planet-forming disc surrounds HL Tau, a sun-like star around 450 light-years from Earth in the constellation Taurus.
Images with this level of detail were previously only seen in computer models and artist concepts.
‘This new and unexpected result provides an incredible view of the process of planet formation,’ said Tony Beasley, director of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO).
HL Tau is hidden in visible light behind a massive envelope of dust and gas. Since Alma observes at much longer wavelengths, it is able to peer through the intervening dust to study the processes right at the core of this cloud.