This beautiful image captured by the ESO’s powerful Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Aray (ALMA) in Chile shows the disk of gas and dust surrounding the 10 million year-old star TW Hydrae, which is located nearby — only 175 light-years from Earth. We are basically looking at the star system’s orbital plane face-on — it’s about this plane that any future planets will orbit their star.
And it looks like baby planets are forming within those dark gaps; their gravity is sweeping up the dust that was left over after TW Hydrae was formed.
“Previous studies with optical and radio telescopes confirm that TW Hydrae hosts a prominent disc with features that strongly suggest planets are beginning to coalesce,” said Sean Andrews with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., and lead author of the study published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.
Observations of young star systems such as TW Hydrae act as time capsules to our solar system’s past. This is how our “proto”-solar system would have likely looked to an alien observer around 4.5 billion years ago.
By measuring the distance of the dust gaps from the central star, astronomers have realized there are likely planets forming 20 and 40 AU from the star, which happens to be the approximate orbital distances of Uranus and Pluto from the sun, respectively. But there’s also a gap close to the star that looks very familiar.