Nov 11, 2016
Mystery Stellar Swirls Are Baby Planets' First Steps
While zooming in on young stars surrounded by the dusty debris from star formation, the SPHERE instrument, which is attached to the ESO's powerful Very Large Telescope (VLT) at the Paranal Observatory in Chile, was able to resolve details in the early evolution of planetary systems. During the formation of our solar system over 4 billion yours ago, the components of all the planets would have resembled the rippled tracks as seen in these observations. As with many fields of astronomy, we often look out into the galaxy to learn more about our own origins.
Though astronomers have a pretty good idea about how planets are formed, many mysteries remain. This is particularly the case when planets take their "first steps," gaining the gravitational fortitude to attract more material and carving out intricate tracks and swirls in stars' surrounding disks.
Of the recent observations, one remarkably young star system called RX J1615 (pictured below), located around 600 light-years from Earth and only 1.8 million years old, shows amazingly intricate symmetrical rings around the central star. "The disc shows hints of being shaped by planets still in the process of formation," the ESO writes in a statement.
"By building an impressive body of knowledge about these protoplanetary discs, these teams are stepping closer to understanding how planets shape the discs that form them — and therefore understanding planet formation itself," the ESO added.